Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Sunday shied away from hard demands when discussing what it would take for them to vote to raise the nation’s debt limit, indicating there is some wiggle room on what would satisfy them as the nominal May 16 deadline approaches.
Speaking on Sunday morning talk shows, lawmakers said there must be some sort of plan to get the nation’s debt under control in order for them to vote to raise the debt limit. But they stopped short of issuing ultimatums.
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., conceded that he does not expect lawmakers to reach an agreement on a grand plan to bring the nation’s debt fully under control. “We’re probably not going to get some grad-slam agreement that fixes all of these problems,” Ryan said on ABC's This Week. “My, now, hope is to get a single or double, to get something done that gets us on the right path.”
Ryan acknowledged that he and other lawmakers, especially Republicans, have been hearing from constituents back in their districts who are worried that a 10-year GOP plan to rein in the nation’s debt will cause them to lose benefits or pay more. Even House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, distanced himself from that plan last week.
Meanwhile, Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., expressed confidence on Fox News Sunday that a bipartisan group of senators working on a long-term budget plan will announce a deal soon. But he wouldn’t divulge any details about the negotiations.
“I can say we’ve made enormous progress,” said Conrad, who is part of the “Gang of Six,” which is being spearheaded by Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. Conrad acknowledged that the group needs to come forward with a plan soon or the ongoing debate may pass it by.
Conrad was joined on the program by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Both senators said their support for raising the debt limit is contingent on a plan to cut spending.
Conrad said he did not know if simply putting a spending cap in place would be a serious enough plan, saying he wants something more comprehensive. “What I've said and said repeatedly is I'm not going to vote for any long-term extension of the debt unless there is a credible and serious plan to deal with the debt,” he said.
But both senators were critical of Ryan’s plan. Graham called Ryan’s blueprint “brave” but said, “If we have the vote on Paul Ryan’s plan we’re not going to get 60 votes.”
He added that he does not believe an alternative plan put forward by President Obama would get through the Senate, either.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., also criticized Ryan’s plan, calling it “aspirational” but “not legislation”
Also speaking on Fox News Sunday, she said she is concerned the plan would ultimately cause senior citizens to pay more for benefits. “I agree with the concerns of senior citizens... that they will have to assume the costs themselves,” she said. “I’m wedded to the idea of efficiencies and savings; how we get there is open to discussion.”
When pressed, Bachmann said she is not advocating for the country to default on the debt limit. And she dodged a question about whether she is going to run for president in 2012.
Perhaps trying to strike a middle ground, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Democrats are going to have to agree to cut entitlement programs and Republicans must realize spending cuts alone will not be enough.
“You have to have some combination of cuts in expenses and some revenue enhancements—you can call those taxes or whatever you want,” Bloomberg said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
But it was freshman Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who hit the hardest.
“I marvel at how people in this town run around with their hair on fire because of the potential for a technical default because we don’t raise the debt limit, but they don’t seem that overly concerned about a real default where we’re not paying our debt obligations because we don’t have the money,” Rubio said on Meet the Press.
Pointedly, Rubio said he believes Obama “has failed to lead.”
“What I’m saying—and what I think others are beginning to say, including many in the Democrat Party—is that now, as part of this debt-limit debate, let’s just not talk about the debt limit. Let’s talk about how we’re going to put this country on a fiscal path that is sustainable,” Rubio said.
But he did not offer his own plan and would not say directly whether he would vote for Ryan’s plan. “As far as the Ryan plan is concerned, I will support any plan that saves Medicare, doesn’t impact current seniors, and doesn’t hurt economic growth. The Ryan plan does that,” he said.
“Here’s my challenge today,” he added. “Anybody out there that thinks there’s a better way to save Medicare should introduce a bill on Monday. Tomorrow, when we get back to work here in Washington, run up to Capitol Hill and introduce your bill.
“Don’t just criticize. Propose. Otherwise you’re not serious, you’re up here to play political games,” he said.
Rubio added that “under no circumstances” will he serve on the GOP presidential ticket in 2012.