From different perspectives, two legislators react to debt plan

President Barack Obama today laid out a proposal to achieve $3 trillion in debt-reduction over the next decade, with a mix of tax reform, spending cuts, and entitlement program savings. The White House wants the congressional “super committee” to take up this proposals as part of its debt-reduction mandate, spelled out in this summer’s agreement to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

The Mirror asked two members of the delegation-Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a liberal Democrat from Connecticut’s 3rd congressional district, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent who has taken a conservative stand in the current fiscal debate-five key questions about the president’s outline. Here are their edited answers.

The Mirror: Should the super committee aim for more debt-reduction than the current $1.5 trillion target, or stick with that smaller figure? Why?

Lieberman: The super committee should aim for at least $4 trillion savings over the next decade…  Though it’s a very large number, it is the minimum necessary to begin to move us out of debt. But frankly it’s going to be difficult to reach even the lower target.

DeLauro: It’s more whether or not the super committee is willing to take it on. And it’s not so much the number, but what the number is composed of.

The Mirror: According to the White House, Obama’s debt reduction plan includes $2 of spending cuts for every $1 in raised revenue. Is that a good balance, or do you think it should tilt more one way or the other?

DeLauro: When Bill Clinton did this [in 1993], it was 50-50…. Deficit reduction is a serious problem. But we’re going to have to have a balanced approach. We have to deal with both cuts and revenue. And the fact of the matter is, we have really lost ground over the years in revenues. [DeLauro also pointed to a recent op-ed she wrote in which she noted that federal revenues will amount of less than 15 percent of the nation’s GDP this year, the lowest rate since 1950.]

Lieberman: It’s not bad. But I must say I must say I don’t read the president’s plan as actually saving that [the full $3 trillion]. He uses this $1 trillion in savings from [winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan]. But everybody knows we’re pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t see those as additional savings.

The Mirror: Critics say President Obama’s plan looks more like an effort to revive a discontented Democratic base than a realistic legislative proposal that could win bipartisan support in Congress. What do you make of that criticism and give me your most candid gut-check of whether this can go anywhere.

Lieberman: I’m not judge of motives, but I’ll just say that while the president’s proposal announced today takes some steps forward, it doesn’t represent the kind of comprehensive tax reform, entitlement reform and spending reduction that we need to get our country back into balance. And to me therefore, it doesn’t pass the test. And I don’t think it can be passed. If you put together the statements the Republicans have made over the last week and that President Obama made this morning, you could rapidly become a pessimist about whether anything is going to be accomplished.

DeLauro: It depends on how willing the Republicans are to accept a reasonable approach that talks about spending cuts and revenues…. What are they for? They’re not for the jobs bill. They don’t like any suggestions on deficit reduction that have to do with closing tax loopholes or putting a tax on people who make over $1 million.

The Mirror: In the plan he outlined today, Obama did not propose any changes to Social Security. Do you see that as a positive or negative element and why?

DeLauro: He shouldn’t have been dealing with Social Security. Social Security did not cause the deficit, nor has Medicare for that matter. Medicare ought to be dealt with, but these are not slush funds [to be used for debt-reduction] in lieu of increased revenue.

Lieberman: I was disappointed the president effectively took it off the table. We ought to be talking about Social Security reform. It’s a bit different in terms of the immediacy of the crisis than Medicare, for instance. But everybody agrees that on the current course Social Security is also going to run out of money. And this crisis is one that most people know how we can solve. Probably as a single piece, in terms of what we have to do to save it, it’s the most manageable and easy.

The Mirror: It seems like everyone in Washington, lawmakers and lobbyists alike, is trying to influence the super committee. Sen. Ron Johnson from Wisconsin, for example, submitted his own 16-page plan to the committee, which he said would achieve $1.4 trillion in debt reduction. What are you doing, if anything, to shape the package they come up with?

Lieberman: I think it’s fair game for anyone to submit recommendations to them. In the end, they have to do what they think is right. My first hope is to work through this quite remarkable group of 36 senators that came together last week [to endorse] a statement of general principles that the committee look at tax reform, entitlement reform and spending cuts. So what I’d like to do is work with them to make more specific suggestions. I also intend for [Oklahoma] Sen. [Tom] Coburn and me to send them our proposal for Medicare reform.

DeLauro: I’m waiting to see what they come up with, not offering specific items. I want to see where the balance is.