A laundry list of recommendations on how to trim the federal deficit failed to get enough votes by President Barack Obama's Fiscal Commission, but Rep. Dan Lungren says it's a good start toward putting a number of major issues on the table before Congress.
"We've got a crisis on our hands," said Lungren, R-Gold River, whose district includes Galt and Herald. "It establishes a platform and foundation (for discussion)."
The Fiscal Commission voted 11-7 this month on a series of recommendations on how to cut federal spending by $3.9 trillion during the next decade, but it fell short of the 14 committee votes to forward the package as an official recommendation to Congress.
However, Lungren says that individual components will likely be considered separately.
"I think that since the commission reached as much agreement as they did gives me hope that we can get some things done," Lungren said. "Now it's more of a mainstream political argument."
Lungren added that he sees hope for some agreement on federal budget cuts due to the large number of Senate Democrats up for re-election in 2012.
Fiscal Commission recommendations covered a wide spectrum of federal issues. They include simplifying the tax code, health care reform, defense, a salary freeze for elected officials and federal employees, Social Security and putting money away for natural catastrophes.
Here are the positions held by Lungren and Lodi-area Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton:
Health care reform
McNerney: The new health care reform law is a significant step forward that will help reduce deficits, and the Fiscal Commission provided a series of recommendations to further reduce the growth in health care costs. I am carefully reviewing the commission's specific proposals and will support responsible initiatives to control health care costs while protecting high-quality patient care.
Lungren: We're going to have to be very serious about the repeal of the Obama health care bill. We (Republicans) do not believe in the status quo.
Lungren: The commission pointed out that we have to do something to make sure that the Social Security system is viable. This moves the conversation to the front of the line.
McNerney: It's essential to preserve and strengthen Social Security benefits and guarantee the long-term solvency of the Social Security system. Responsible planning and budgeting can help us preserve Social Security, and I am committed to protecting the benefits that so many California seniors rely on.
McNerney: Protecting national security is a vital priority and the first obligation of the federal government. My son joined the armed forces shortly after 9/11, and I am deeply grateful to our men and women in uniform for the sacrifices they make. Military personnel deserve the full pay and benefits they have earned. At the same time, we can do more to keep Pentagon programs on time and on budget.
Lungren: They said there're no sacred cows, and I agree with that. But the first obligation of government is to defend the people. That's the first spending priority. I would call veterans a special category (and support benefits for them).
Tax code reform
Lungren: That is a remarkable accomplishment (by the commission). We should get rid of some of the deductions and reduce the number of tax brackets.
McNerney: Unfortunately the tax code has become too confusing and complicated, which poses a burden for middle-class families and allows big corporations to exploit loopholes. If done right, simplifying the tax code can protect middle-class families and help small businesses create good jobs. We should also continue working to close tax loopholes that big corporations use to send American jobs overseas. While some of the Fiscal Commission's suggestions may have merit, I am concerned by several of the specific recommendations, such as changes to the mortgage interest deduction.
McNerney: Unfortunately, far too many Americans have lost private-sector jobs in the last few years, and I believe that shared sacrifice by federal workers — and especially members of Congress — is important. That's why I've consistently voted against pay raises for Congress.
Lungren: The president has talked about holding the line. That is obviously one place we need to look. It should not be a hard-and-fast rule. If everyone else is sacrificing, federal employees should, too.
Lungren: You know you are going to have certain number of natural catastrophes. It is a device to get government spending under control so that you don't spend that money for other things.
McNerney: Although many disasters are unpredictable, it's essential that we plan for a variety of contingencies. Here in California, we are vulnerable to potential disasters like earthquakes and levee failures, and good planning can save lives and save resources. I appreciate the commission's recommendation that we dedicate funds for disaster relief, and will closely evaluate specific legislation to implement this suggestion to make sure it is fiscally responsible and provides the flexibility that first responders may need in a crisis.
Helping the truly disadvantaged
McNerney: Balancing the budget and controlling deficits will require tough decisions and shared sacrifice. However, we cannot place an unfair burden on our most needy citizens. The commission recognizes that federal benefits should be focused on the people who need them most, and I will keep working to protect low-income families and people who are struggling in the current economy.
Lungren: Helping the "truly disadvantaged" should be a safety net that should be more like a trampoline than quicksand. We should keep them out of dependency and bring them out of welfare as soon as possible.
To review the Fiscal Commission's recommendations, please visit www.fiscalcommission.gov.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at email@example.com.