Congress returns to budget, debt debate

May 2, 2011 at 9:49 AM
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WASHINGTON, May 2 (UPI) -- The vision and scope of the U.S. budget and the nation's debt take center stage this week in the U.S. Senate as Congress returns from a two-week break.

Critical action begins behind closed doors after President Obama hosts a dinner Monday for congressional leaders and key lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, The Washington Post reported.

On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden meets with congressional leaders at Blair House for the first of what likely will be a series of discussions about how to strike a deal on the debt limit in the near term and tackle Medicare and Medicaid funding further out.

On the table is consideration of whether to raise the debt ceiling beyond $14.3 trillion in exchange for more as-yet undefined budget-tightening.

With negotiations expected to last into the summer, Democrats and Republicans criticized one another Sunday over how to tackle the debt limit and reduce the deficit. Democrats want to increase tax rates for the wealthy and end oil company tax breaks while Republicans prefer focusing on slashing entitlement spending.

"A lot of people think this is sort of like the magic fairy dust of budgets, that we can just make a small amount of people pay some more taxes and it will fix all of our problems," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Sunday on ABC News' "This Week With Christiane Amanpour." "Well, let's keep our eye on the ball. The eye on the ball is spending. And the sooner we get this thing under control, the better off everybody is going to be."

On CNN's "State of the Union, "Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md, the top Democrat on the budget committee said, "The idea that we should come up with a balanced deficit-reduction plan is right. But what's wrong is to say that if one side doesn't get 100 percent of what it wants in terms of coming up with that plan that they will put the entire economy at risk."

Also in play is the Senate's so-called Gang of Six, a bipartisan panel that has been meeting for months trying to sustain key elements of last year's deficit-reduction commission, Politico reported.

If the group can produce a bipartisan budget framework it could be the spark for a debt ceiling deal, observers said.

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