By: Eric Swanson
President Barack Obama's budget proposal for next year does nothing to reduce the massive national deficit, U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp said Monday. "This president's proposing a 1.6 trillion-dollar deficit," he complained. "It wasn't till two years ago we ever talked about trillion-dollar deficits. Now his budget comes out, we're talking about trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see."
Fiscal issues dominated the discussion during Huelskamp's town hall meeting at the Cimarron City Library. The congressman is touring the Big First Congressional District this month to give his constituents an overview of what's going on in Washington.
Obama has recommended a $3.73 trillion budget for fiscal year 2012, saying it balances necessary spending with reductions that would cut the deficit by $1.1 trillion over 10 years. But congressional Republicans complained that the proposal does not do enough to rein in the deficit.
Huelskamp said the U.S. House is taking a new approach to balancing the budget this year. Each week, lawmakers will have an up-or-down vote on whether to keep or eliminate a federal program.
"Normally, they'd sit around the table and say, "OK, where can we add money?'" he said. "The question is now, "Where can we do less?' Because we have to balance this budget."
But the national deficit wasn't the only topic on the agenda. Huelskamp also touched on a variety of other topics, including funding for federal "czars," the fate of Social Security and the possibility of a government shutdown.
* Funding for czars: Earlier this month, Huelskamp cosponsored a measure eliminating funding for nine czars who were appointed by Obama without congressional consent.
Those positions included the assistant to the president for energy and climate change and a special envoy to oversee closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
Huelskamp said Monday the czars' policy goals should be subject to congressional oversight.
"The czars didn't start with Obama, but they should end now," he said.
* The future of Social Security: Huelskamp said Social Security is closer to breaking even than other entitlement programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. But he warned the audience that insolvency is just around the corner for Social Security.
"We're going to be paying out more this year than we receive in Social Security for the first time," he said. "It'll always be like this all the way forward."
He said the federal government could take steps to keep the program solvent, such as raising the age requirement for beneficiaries.
* Government shutdown: Lawmakers are feuding over spending in the current fiscal year, which is one-third over, the Associated Press reported Sunday.
House Republicans have vowed to cut $60 billion in discretionary spending, or 12 percent of the budget. But Obama and congressional Democrats say such cuts would damage the economic recovery. Instead, they favor freezing discretionary spending at current levels for five years.
The budget battle could result in a partial government shutdown unless something changes before March 4, when the current funding measure ends, according to the AP.
A woman in the audience asked Huelskamp if talk of a shutdown was aimed at forcing Congress to cut the federal budget.
Huelskamp said his Republican colleagues want to reduce the deficit and save taxpayers money, but Obama and the Democrats don't seem to be serious about achieving that goal.
"March 4, they'll run out of money, and we'll see what happens in the meantime," he said.