Both teams have picked their quarterbacks; spirits are high; game plans have been prepared and readied. It's time to hit heads over the next month to see who has the smarter, more efficient route to a cyclically balanced budget in fiscal year 2014.
While the GOP stand behind Congressman Paul Ryan's "Path to Prosperity 2," for the first time since 2009, Senate Democrats are proposing a budget as well. The only thing saving Congress from a partisan train wreck this year is the freshmen class, one that stays true to their values, but doesn't allow passion to get in between government and America's future.
The first budget reminder comes in two weeks when the current continuing resolution expires. Short term funding for government discretionary spending is set to end on March 27, but this legislation (that should pass both the House and Senate this week) allows Congress to carry over the previous fiscal year's budget for any length of time. You may or may not hear the term "government shutdown" passed around.
The second budget reminder comes on April 15. By law, the House and Senate are obligated to adopt a budget resolution for fiscal year 2014 or legislators won't get paid (thanks to "No Budget, No Pay"). The Twenty-Seventh Amendment will ultimately force congressional paychecks to be dispersed at the conclusion of the current Congress, but failure to produce a budget without pay will put Washington into an even more elite class, something Americans will surely frown upon.
Here are three plans to balance the budget:
1) House Republicans:
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, this is Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wisc.) claim to fame every year and the reason why he was selected as Mitt Romney's running mate in last year's presidential election. "It's deja vu all over again" as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) put it on Tuesday. The proposal includes no cuts in Social Security, untouched military spending, and a smaller role in the protection of the environment, the supplying of government-backed loans, and the regulation of financial services and energy companies.
Medicare will be turned into a voucher-like program where Americans under 55 would receive a sum of money (that does not count for inflation) to buy health insurance. Similar to last year's blueprint, plans to defund Obamacare and gut (not cut) social programs like Medicaid are included.
Ryan claims the fiscal cliff deal ($600 billion in revenue), plus sequestration, plus savings from first few years of Affordable Care Act will balance the budget by 2023. A bold plan that could put the economy into a recession and may take until 2040 to truly balance the budget.
2) Senate Democrats:
The Senate Democrats' first budget proposal in four years is sponsored by Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on the Budget Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). The proposal includes no changes to safety-net programs; higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations to supply deficit reduction and economic boosts from government-backed job training, educational grants, and infrastructure work; and a reworking of the Medicare system. The Medicare system will remain the same for the elderly and anyone close to retirement, but doctors and hospitals will earn less money from the government.
Murray claims $1 trillion in new taxes plus $1 trillion in spending cuts over the next ten years will come close to balancing the budget in 10 years. The key word here is close. In actuality, budget plan doesn't come close. There's also essentially no plan to deal current government debt.
Ryan and Murray are not proposing these plans with the intention of getting them fully passed. These budgets represent the party's foundation, their ultimate beliefs and conceptions of what role government should have in people's everyday lives.
But, we've been missing the next step for the last thirty 30 years; the part where legislators must come together, agree upon a solution, and pass a legitimate budget for our nation's generated tax revenue.
This year, more than ever, passionate political ideologies drive this year's budget showdown. Both Murray and Ryan faced difficult financial struggles as teenagers. Both legislators see the role of government as important, but in different ways.
When push comes to shove, the underlying fact remains. We aren't far apart as we think we are. As colleagues that are fighting each and every day for American values, members should know this.
Pessimists claim that a balanced budget is impossible, but it I would beg to differ. Unlike hasty debates on the fiscal cliff and sequestration crises, this year's budget discussion will give the pragmatic freshman class of the 113th Congress an opportunity to preach a renewed willingness to cooperate.
Our values and traditions are what make us American. Staying true to them is what defines our nobility. The ability to put aside these differences and produce a balanced budget is also noble and virtuous. Principled compromise isn't just an option for obtaining a balanced national budget, it's the only way.