Apr 19 2011

ARGUS LEADER: S.D.'s lawmakers differ on budget

Thune and Noem: Deep cuts needed; Johnson: Increase taxes on the rich

In the battle over the 2012 budget, South Dakota's congressional delegation is sticking to party lines.

Rep. Kristi Noem and Sen. John Thune, Republicans, say deep spending cuts are necessary to rein in an anticipated $1.5 trillion deficit, and they say it can be done without raising taxes. Both see the budget that passed the Republican-majority House last week - a budget that would slash spending and taxes and radically transform Medicare and Medicaid - as a workable, if imperfect, blueprint.

"If we don't get things turned around," Thune said, "we're headed for a train wreck."

In voting for the House budget, Noem said the mushrooming national debt was choking the life from the economy, calling President Obama's proposed budget "nothing more than the status quo."

Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, on the other hand, says the House Republican budget - largely crafted by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan - would shred the social safety net while giving a break to millionaires and corporate interests.

At a news conference Monday in Sioux Falls, Johnson said political leaders should "cherry-pick" the best ideas from the major budget proposals from Ryan, the White House, the Obama Administration's fiscal commission and the so-called Gang of Six, a bipartisan group of senators who are trying to hash out a budget compromise.

But Johnson said the hammer should fall hardest on those who can most afford it.

"It's time for those who have prospered the most from working and doing business in America to help with the federal deficit," he said.

He said more substantive details about his budget priorities would emerge in the coming weeks but said he favors cutting subsidies to oil and gas interests, raising taxes on high-income earners to Clinton-era levels, closing corporate tax loopholes and trimming some fat from the defense budget.

Asked whether any federal spending is off the table, he said Social Security "is as close (to) untouchable as can be."

Adding fuel to the debate, Standard & Poor's Ratings Service on Monday downgraded its outlook on U.S. government debt, expressing doubts over the ability of Washington to bring the deficit under control.

"The S&P news should be a wake-up call to Washington that the status quo on spending is unacceptable," Noem said in a statement. "The budget plan passed out of the House last week might not be the perfect solution, but it is the only comprehensive plan offered so far that would reverse the debt-fueled collision course we're currently on."

Kenneth Blanchard, professor of political science at Northern State University, said that while Ryan's budget contains some "rosy assumptions" about the economy, it's a more serious take than what's being offered by Democrats, who are using the Ryan budget "as a weapon against Republicans."

"You know, it's, they're going to eat babies and throw grandma under the train," he said. "That's politics. It's hardball. But it's hard for me to see that the president is interested in real reform."

Blanchard said it's unrealistic to believe that the deficit can be closed without both spending cuts and tax increases.

The Associated Press contributed.


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