February 14, 2011
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) doesn’t think the House and Senate will reach agreement on a budget.
In a Monday interview for the POLITICO video series “The Economic Outlook,” the former House Majority Leader said that the amount saved over 10 years in President Barack Obama’s budget is less than this year’s deficit.
“So I don’t think the President goes far enough,” he said. “If that’s a start, the destination is failure.”
If no budget passes, Blunt said the onus will be on appropriators — as never before — to make cuts in a more piecemeal way.
He sees the coming debate over whether to raise the debt limit as an opportunity for Republicans to wrest concessions from the White House. He floated the idea of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution or giving the president a line item veto as ways to get the debt under control over the long term.
His pessimism about the chances for an across-the-board budget agreement stood in marked contrast to the optimism expressed by President Barack Obama as he unveiled his budget about the chances for bipartisan cooperation.
Blunt, who easily won his Senate seat last year after seven terms in the House, acknowledged that House Republicans share part of the blame for the ballooning debt. But he argued that spending really only got out of control at the very end of George W. Bush’s administration and mainly on Obama’s watch.
The junior senator from Missouri, who wants an immediate return to 2008 spending levels, criticized Obama’s proposal to freeze discretionary domestic spending at 2009 levels. He noted that there was a 24 percent year-over-year increase.
“It would be laughable at any other level of government in America,” he said. “It would be a total non-starter that we’re spending way too much money, and so the solution in this discretionary area is (to) not spend anymore for the next five years than we are spending this year when we all apparently agree we’re spending way too much.”
Here’s what Blunt said on these and other matters:
When President Obama unveiled his budget, he said he was optimistic about getting a bipartisan agreement on it. Is that optimism warranted?
I wouldn’t think so. I think this budget does not do nearly enough quick enough, and in fact, you know, we’re looking at a long-term budget. If you take his numbers, which also include a lot of tax increases that don’t occur and some Medicare cuts that I doubt if they occur, but even if you take his budget, the long-term savings is—the ten-years savings is less than this year’s deficit. You just can’t continue to do that.
Now, a part of this disastrous trajectory is spending that occurred when you were a House Republican leader. Are you partly responsible? Do you have some red ink on your hands?
Well, it’s really not. That only counts if you add the Troubled Asset Relief Program to the spending in 2008, and almost all of that money is being paid back and will be paid back with interest. So, it’s a not a long-term deficit. It’s not long-term debt if the money is immediately paid back.
The 2008 spending level was right at the 20, 21 percent of GDP that the government had spent virtually every year since 1945. So, the position of the government in the economy in 2008, right through the end of 2008, was the same as it had been for decades. But in 2009 and 2010, we suddenly got to spending $1 out of $4 that our economy could produce instead of 1 out of 5. There is a big difference in a government that spends $1 out of $4 and a government that spends $1 of out $5.
So, you don’t think House Republicans in the past are partly responsible?
Oh, I think we’re partly responsible, and I think if we had to go back and look at that again, you’d say, okay, what do we need to do over the long haul of Medicare to try to offset the true increase in costs. But the true increase in costs was substantially less than any number that anybody was talking about at the time because, one, it was competitive, and a competitive marketplace produced better results; it was 40 percent cheaper than anybody thought. And two, there’s no factoring in of the savings you get when you actually begin to look at healthcare when people are well, or at least they’re not in desperate sickness when you see them the first time. You know, nobody ever saw a Medicare patient that thought they were well until January of the first year after we passed that bill, and it made a difference in the long-term cost of Medicare.
Now, Senator Blunt, what do you think the Congress should do when President Obama asks you to raise the debt ceiling?
Well, I think the debt ceiling is an opportunity to talk about—I think we should say, okay, and, in return for that, what are we going to do to see that the debt ceiling doesn’t continue to have to be raised? What can we do on a balanced budget amendment? What can we do to give you, Mr. President, the line item veto? What can we do to put everything on the table and have some real targets that the government meets in its spending relative to the rest of the economy. So, I see the debt ceiling as an opportunity, and I’m hopeful it’s an opportunity everybody will seize.
Do you think those procedural changes will be enough to satisfy the most conservative Republicans? Are you worried that your successors, as House Leader, are going to have a tough time rounding up those votes?
I think it depends on how deep those procedural changes go. I think the right kind of procedural changes would satisfy a majority in the House and a majority in the Senate, and a significant majority, but it depends on what they are, what the targets for spending are, how much agreement we could really get on a balanced budget amendment. Can we make some budget process changes? I’ve always been in favor of a two-year appropriating cycle instead of a one-year appropriating cycle.
You’ve been frank in your defense of earmarks. Earmarks are kind of out of fashion, now, but Senators are going to find other ways, right?
I don’t know what’s going to happen there. I think in this Congress, the appropriators are going to be the people that—their biggest obligation is to not spend money. They have to find ways to save money; that means those appropriation hearings are more important than they’ve ever been before.
Highly unlikely, I can’t even imagine we’ll have a budget that the House and Senate agree on, and so, really, without a budget document that’s agreed on by the House and the Senate, the appropriating process becomes the way to cut spending. And what we’ve got to do in this Congress is clearly reduce spending and, again, start those discussions to get that reduction of spending way beyond the framework we’re talking about now to where everything is on the table as we look about, how can we produce, in many cases, better results for less money?
…I’d be a lot more excited about eliminating earmarks if we reduced all of the spending by whatever the earmarks used to be, but nobody’s, apparently, going to talk about doing that.
As a last question, you told me there was an historical parallel or analogy for the approach that your office is taking to social media both in the campaign and now that you’re in office. Can you tell us what you’re thinking there?
We were very aggressive in social media in the campaign and, as I got near the end of the campaign, I kept saying, really, I have two goals: One is a November 2 goal, which is to win the election, but the November 3 goal is to do it in a way that opens every door of communication I can open with a commitment on my part to do everything I can to keep them open, and so, our Twitter, our Facebook activity, very aggressive every day. A lot of people are communicating with their senator in that way if you’ll let them. They used to think they had to sit down and write or type a letter.
…I read somewhere a story about Sam Rayburn, (who) as a young congressman, told his staff, “I want to communicate with people like they communicate with us. And so, if they write a letter in pencil and send it in, I want you to write a letter in pencil and send it back. If they hand write a letter in ink and send it in, you write the letter from me back in ink—handwritten in ink. If they type a letter, type a letter, and I’ll sign it.”
And of course, the purpose there is to communicate with people like they communicate with you, to encourage people to communicate with you in the way that they’re most interested in communicating. And so, whether it’s Facebook, the Senator Blunt handle there, or Twitter.com/royBlunt, we’re eager to talk to people, and we’re trying to communicate to people as much as we can the real-time activities of what’s going on in the United States Senate.