With across-the-board federal spending cuts set to take effect next week unless Congress and President Barack Obama strike a deal, three local House Democrats urged Republicans Thursday to abandon their cuts-only approach to deficit reduction and support closing tax loopholes and deductions for corporations.
Democratic Reps. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach and Patrick Murphy of Jupiter appeared together at a news conference at the Palm Beach County Convention Center to decry the “devastating” and “mindless” cuts scheduled to come March 1 as a result of budget legislation passed by Congress and signed by Obama in 2011.
While the Democratic trio largely refrained from direct finger-pointing at Republicans, each echoed Obama in calling for a “balanced” deficit-reduction plan that includes some tax increases rather than the GOP’s insistence on spending cuts alone.
Democrats this week stepped up their criticism of the automatic budget cuts — known in Washington parlance as “sequestration” — amid polls showing Obama enjoys more support than congressional Republicans and the “balanced” approach is more popular than the Republican position.
The Florida Democratic Party organized a conference call Thursday to blast the cuts and to accuse three Republicans in Florida’s delegation — Reps. Steve Southerland, Daniel Webster and Bill Young — of blocking a deal because they want to preserve “tax breaks for millionaires and corporations.”
Republicans agreed to more than $600 billion in tax increases over the next decade, primarily on people making more than $400,000 a year, as part of a January agreement that postponed sequestration two months.
House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders say the GOP has already compromised on taxes.
“The president got his higher taxes — $600 billion from higher earners, with no spending cuts — at the end of 2012…. Washington must get serious about its spending problem,” Boehner said in an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.
Unless the GOP-led House, the Democrat-controlled Senate and the Democratic president agree to an alternative, sequestration would reduce federal outlays by $44 billion this year, or 1.2 percent of the $3.6 trillion federal budget, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Because Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are largely exempt from the cuts, sequestration would cut defense spending by about 8 percent across the board and other non-defense spending would be cut by up to 6 percent, the CBO estimates.
If left in place permanently, sequestration would cut $1.2 trillion over 10 years, with half the cuts coming from defense and the other half from domestic programs.
Deutch, Frankel and Murphy said the cuts would mean less money for biomedical research at The Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter and longer lines at Palm Beach International Airport and the Port of Palm Beach because of fewer federal security screeners.
Joining the Democrats at their news conference was an Alzheimer’s patient from Lake Worth, a white-coated researcher from Scripps, Port of Palm Beach Director Manuel Almira, Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor and county school district lobbyist Vern Pickup-Crawford.
An August 2011 budget deal created sequestration as a final alternative if a bipartisan “super committee” failed to come up with deficit-reduction measures by the end of 2011. Deutch was part of a bipartisan House majority that supported the measure; Frankel and Murphy were not in Congress at the time and declared their opposition. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson voted for the 2011 deal and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio was opposed. Obama signed the legislation.
Supporters of the 2011 measure say sequestration was meant to be so unpalatable that it would force Congress and the White House to agree to an alternative way to reduce deficits and the national debt.
After four straight years of deficits exceeding $1 trillion, the federal deficit is expected to be $845 billion this year. The national debt now stands at $16.6 trillion.
Asked Thursday if he regretted voting for the 2011 legislation that created sequestration, Deutch said, “If anything I’m disappointed that there have been multiple opportunities for us to act in a reasonable, bipartisan way. The leadership of the House has too often not given us the opportunity even to have a vote on approaches that I think everyone would agree are consistent with this balanced approach that America wants.”
Nelson issued a similar statement.
“The main reason we don’t have a solution yet is because some in Washington are doing a Kabuki dance. I think the Senate should pass the $110 billion plan we put on the table last week to avert these impending mandatory budget cuts. Then we can use that to work out a compromise with the House.”
The $110 billion Senate plan is for one year only and achieves half its deficit reduction through spending cuts and half through tax increases. The tax hikes include a so-called “Buffett Rule” requirement that households earning more than $2 million pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes.
Frankel mentioned the Buffett Rule and “eliminating the tax breaks for the oil companies” as potential ways to reduce the deficit.
Deutch called for “finally ending some of the special-interest giveaways that cost our government billions of dollars every single year.”
Murphy said a deficit-reduction plan must include spending cuts, economic growth and increased tax revenues.
“We’re not talking about class warfare or anything like that,” Murphy said. “It’s about finding the loopholes and deductions in the tax code that far too many corporations are getting away with, so we want them to pay their fair share and that’s where the balance comes in.”
A poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center and USA Today found 49 percent of Americans would blame congressional Republicans if sequestration takes place and 31 percent would blame Obama.
The poll found 76 percent believe both spending cuts and tax increases should be part of a deficit-reduction deal, with only 19 percent saying the deficit should be reduced with cuts only. Of those favoring a combination of taxes and cuts, more than two-thirds say the mix should include “mostly spending cuts.”