WASHINGTON — Minnesota’s two most liberal House representatives voted against the final debt limit increase deal Congress passed in August, rejecting the plan because it cut billions of dollars in spending but didn’t raise taxes on the rich.
Now, Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison have turned a cautious eye to the deficit reduction plan President Barack Obama introduced on Monday — both have supported the economic stimulus measures and the taxation policies the plan lays out, but cuts to social programs like Medicare and Medicaid could complicate matters.
Obama’s plan consists of the American Jobs Act, a $448 billion program meant to spur economic growth by investing in public works projects and providing tax incentives to businesses, and $4.4 trillion in deficit reduction measures, which includes $1.2 trillion in spending cuts previously enacted, $580 billion in cuts to mandatory spending programs — including Medicare — savings from drawing down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and $1.5 trillion in tax reform.
That last measure includes the so-called “Buffett rule,” which increases the tax rate on those making more than $1 million a year. Obama also includes a litany of tax increases meant to pay for the Jobs Act (Here’s a fact sheet from the White House outlining the plan.)
Obama has also promised to veto any plan that contains Medicare cuts but no taxes increases.
“I like him being tough,” Ellison said on the veto threat. “I think the president should be strong. Be as strong on the right [wing of the Republican Party] as the moment needs to be.”
In a statement, McCollum called the overall plan, “a balanced and rational approach to both job creation and deficit reduction.
“Middle class families, along with our poorest and most vulnerable citizens, have endured very difficult economic times and tough budget cuts,” said McCollum, who, all session long, has knocked Republicans for supporting large spending cuts. “They don’t deserve to be victims again of the Republican budget ax. Calling upon our society’s wealthiest and most privileged to share in the sacrifice to keep America strong is both fair and reasonable.”
But any plan to raise taxes faces the herculean task of passing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where both leadership and the rank-and-file have steadfastly opposed any revenue increases. In no uncertain terms, Speaker John Boehner said last week that “tax increases are not a viable option” for the committee convened to forge a plan to reduce the deficit, and that even letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire would be tantamount to an increase.
Ellison said that absent a tax increase, he’d be hard pressed to support large cuts to social programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Obama’s plan cuts $248 billion from Medicare, but the White House said $224 billion of that is in the form of reducing overpayments. The cuts are delayed until 2017 and there are no changes in age eligibility.
“Even $24 billion in Medicare cuts is too deep for me,” Ellison said in an interview Tuesday. “I’m concerned about it and I really can’t support it.”
Ellison said that even if Republicans agreed to some form of tax reform — such as closing tax loopholes or ending certain deductions — he’d be hard-pressed to vote for Medicare cuts.
“What do they define as cuts? If they’re willing to give up a deduction for people’s jets, then does that mean I should open the door for them to whack Grandma? I don’t think so,” he said. “What they call a revenue increase and what I call a revenue increase is not the same thing.”
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.