Under fire from progressives for working with Republicans on legislation that would likely cut entitlements and raise taxes, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters Thursday he thinks there’s an imperative to address long-run budget deficits rationally, before the end of the election, in a way that doesn’t end the explicit guarantees of key government programs.
In a roundtable with reporters in his Capitol office, Hoyer said the group’s still a long way from achieving broad consensus, but sought to reassure critics, constituents and other observers that he opposes the GOP’s radical entitlement proposals.
“I want to emphasize, because I get beat up on, I’m for the Medicare guarantee, I’m not for a Paul Ryan alternative that eliminates the guarantee,” he said. “[Some claim] I’ve said we ought to raise the age. I haven’t said that. What I’ve said is I think everything ought to be on the table.”
Hoyer has noted that a bill devised among a coalition of Republicans and Democrats will be superior to automatic spending cuts set to take effect on Jan. 1 — the result of the Super Committee’s failure late last year. He hopes his current efforts will at least help lay the groundwork for swapping out those cuts — to both national security, Medicare providers and other domestic programs — with a more reasonable mix of tax revenues and spending reductions.
“I think sequestration is not a rational way to deal with cutting spending, and I think we need an alternative. I think an alternative personally is a big deal,” Hoyer said.
He got a big boost Thursday from House Speaker John Boehner. “I think any bipartisan effort that will help reduce our deficit and our debt is a welcome sign, and I frankly have encouraged them,” Boehner told reporters at his weekly Capitol briefing.
Passing any legislation that cuts federal health care programs — particularly Medicare — or raises taxes will be extraordinarily difficult during an election year in which the parties are running on dramatically competing visions of both policies.
But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — who notably wants to avoid muddying these distinctions for voters — told reporters Thursday that Congress could surprise everybody.
“I don’t know that we’re going to be that delinquent in executing our duties between now and I guess you would say the election but probably the month before the election — that all of that would be kicked to the lame duck,” she said. “Some of it’s just a decision. Whatever happens, it’s just a decision. Just get it done. It’s going to be the same Congress in the lame duck. It’s going to be the same President in the lame duck. Let’s just come together, make our compromises, find our common ground if that is possible, or not. And we can do that now just as well as we can do it eight months, nine months from now.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.