Tennessean - Cooper Urges Cuts to Offset Spending
Nashville Democrat Rep. Jim Cooper warned Tuesday that plans for massive federal spending to stimulate the moribund U.S. economy must be offset with budget cuts.
Too many people say, "stimulate, stimulate," Cooper said during a meeting with The Tennessean's editorial board, "but they forget about cut, cut."
Cooper said savings of up to $700 billion could be found in federal health-care spending, including making changes in the use of Medigap plans to augment Medicare coverage. Those plans are thought to drive up the cost of Medicare.
Other targets, Cooper said, should be the $900 billion lost to the federal treasury each year because of special breaks in the tax code, the 8,000 political appointments made by the president and perhaps even the country's manned space program.
Cooper has long been a budget hawk, who believes that Congress should pay for the new spending it adds by cutting spending elsewhere or finding tax loopholes to close.
But his allegiance to what's called "paygo" pay as you go has been brought into question, with the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama calling for new spending of $500 billion to $700 billion on public works projects as a way to create jobs and spur the economy.
On Tuesday, Cooper took a hard line on spending cuts. But how likely will cuts be?
"It all depends on how much political will there is," Cooper said. He said members of Congress and budget experts know where the waste is and that when the budget is studied carefully, "you are just astonished (by) what you find."
The public knows that the size of the federal government can be slashed, he said.
"They can see it is too large, too bloated and not responsive to their needs," Cooper said.
Cooper's comments came on the day that Obama announced more members of his economic policy team and also emphasized the need not to just spend more money but also to cut unnecessary government programs.
Cooper, whose name was mentioned for some economic posts, applauded Obama's choices, including his announcement Tuesday that Peter Orszag was his nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget. Orszag, he said, was working on a book about cutting health-care costs.
"First rate. Seasoned. Smart," Cooper said of the group Obama has assembled. "I can't think of a better team (but) that doesn't mean they will succeed, because these are truly challenging times."
Leery of automakers
Cooper was skeptical of the request by General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC for a $25 billion loan to help keep them operating. Congress met last week on the proposal but did not act.
"They really weren't clear what they were asking for," Cooper said. The auto companies need to restructure their businesses as part of any federal bailout, he said.
"We can't throw good money after bad," he said.