Both the House and Senate are in session this week and it promises to be full of deficit discussions, as Vice President Biden’s Deficit Commission will be meeting three times over the next five days in an effort to reach an agreement by the 4th of July recess. The Deficit Commission has met sporadically since early May when it was convened by President Obama with the charge of reaching a compromise on how the country should manage our national debt and deficit. Last week, after their fifth meeting, negotiators agreed to pick up the pace on their talks and the group will meet again this Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to see if broad consensus can be reached among all the principles within the month.
The Biden group is discussing a deficit reduction package that could be developed to piggyback on the debt ceiling vote Congress will have to take later this summer. The Administration is represented by Vice President Biden, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, White House Budget Director Jack Lew, and Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council. Biden is negotiating with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Senate Minority Whip John Kyl, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Assistant House Minority Leader James Clyburn, and House Energy and Commerce Ranking Democrat Chris Van Hollen. Senator Kyl recently stated that Republicans are seeking $2.4 trillion or more in savings (over ten years) as a condition for increasing the debt ceiling by that amount. The Vice President has said that the group has already identified significant budget savings, and will be looking for more this week. Few details have emerged from the discussions.
In order for Congress to consider and pass legislation to raise the debt ceiling by August 2nd (when the Treasury Secretary has indicated the government will exhaust options for making payments on the debt), the general sense is that negotiators will need to reach an agreement and begin ironing out a proposal as early in July as possible. With a 4th of July congressional recess looming and the Gang of Six pared down to a Gang of Five (Senator Coburn has withdrawn from discussions at this juncture), the Biden group has their work cut out for them in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned to the blog, where we’ll continue to follow the DC deficit discussions for updates on how the talks are going and what implications they might have on health centers.