As President Obama prepares to meet with Republican leaders for budget talks on Wednesday, it’s increasingly unlikely that the meetings will yield any immediate results.
While Republicans and Democrats both want to end the ongoing government sequestration, they are deeply at odds over the other side's approach to the situation. The Republican leadership has suggested ending the sequestration by cutting mandatory spending without increasing overall revenue. Democrats, meanwhile, have instead proposed scaling back cuts on mandatory spending while at the same time increasing revenue by closing tax loopholes for the rich. For the notoriously tax-averse Republicans, this is a hard sell.
If Congress does not take action to lift the sequestration within the coming months, the next round of budget cuts will go into effect on Jan. 15, cutting some $20 billion, largely from defense programs. Obviously, neither party wants this, but a viable solution to the budget problem has thus far eluded Republicans and Democrats.
Because of this fundamental incompatibility, leaders on both sides of the isle have outright stated that this coming round of talks is unlikely to produce a one-stop fix for a balanced budget and an end to the sequester.
“We need to focus on achievable goals,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan told Politico. “If we spend our time talking about a grand bargain, we will fall far short, because that will require each party to insist on the other compromising its core principles. And in this divided government, we’re not going to do that.”
“If this becomes just an excuse to raise taxes, it’s not going to be successful,” he continued. “We already have spending cuts coming. We’ll take those. If we can have smarter spending cuts, that’s better.”
Meanwhile, officials at the White House have shown that while Obama is willing to discuss the budget with Republicans, he is still insistent on increasing revenue through one manner or another.
“The president has been clear that any budget solution must have balance, which is why he has proposed a way to replace the sequester and achieve even more deficit reduction through a mix of revenues, targeted spending cuts and savings in entitlement programs,” White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage told Politico. “As the conference begins its work, the president will continue to insist that they are focusing on growing our economy and creating good jobs with good wages, because we can’t cut our way to prosperity.”
While it seems unlikely that Wednesday’s meeting will see any significant compromise on a unified budget deal, it may set the stage for smaller deals to eventually replace sequestration over time. As the New York Times reports, while the Republicans are unified against new revenue being added to the budget, Obama may have found a small work-around by slightly increasing overall revenue in the form of “user fees” or other technical terms.