Drama over federal 'budget dust' portends bigger fight to come, Lewis says

04/09/2011 11:06 AM

Congress might have struck a deal at the final moments Friday night to avoid a government shutdown, but that drama and debate could might just be the beginning of contentious spending showdowns in Washington, one former congressman said.

Retired Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Lewis, who represented the 2nd District from 1994 through 2008, said the divided Congress will likely have a more difficult time agreeing on a full year spending plan for 2012.

The fierce debate so far this year that culminated with a dramatic last-moment agreement Friday night to avoid a government shutdown focused on the spending bill for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

House Republicans and Senate Democrats negotiated over how to cut tens of billions of dollars from the roughly 16% of the federal discretionary funds. That’s the part of the budget that doesn’t included Medicare, Medicaid or defense spending.

House Republicans wanted to cut $61 billion. Senate Democrats were trying to keep it to $34 billion. And they settled on $38 billion.

“That’s budget dust,” Lewis said of the amounts they were negotiating over when compared to the more than $1 trillion annual budget.

“That’s what is really ridiculous about the whole thing,” Lewis said on Friday night’s edition of Pure Politics, which aired before Congress struck a spending agreement.

The bigger issue looms as congressional leaders decide whether to take on cutting or restructuring so-called entitlement programs, such as Medicare that provides health coverage for seniors and Medicaid that covers medical bills for the poor and disabled.

“We should have gotten a hold of that back in 1995 and 1996,” Lewis said.

Lewis said he believes Democratic President Barack Obama has the responsibility to lead negotiations over trying to ensure the long-term financial viability of those programs.

Lewis explained how the current debate related to the last time the government did shut down, which was in late 1995 through much of January 1996.

The issue that shut down the government at that time was conflicts in spending, the same thing that is causing the rift now between President Barack Obama, the Democratically controlled Senate, and the Republican controlled House.

“We’re at a point where this is such a serious issue that we’re at a point where we just don’t need to play politics,” Lewis said.

Lewis said Tea Party freshman representatives have made negotiating difficult for House Speaker John Boehner because they want to hold the line on spending cuts.

That leaves little room for compromise.

“The American people are now expecting politicians to do what they said they were going to do before the election.”

Lewis was in his first full term as congressman in 1995, when a Republican controlled Congress was butting heads with then President Bill Clinton.

“It brings back some painful memories. It’s a tough thing for the federal government to shut down,” said Lewis.

- Ryan Alessi


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