Political Notebook

Senate Democrat says new budget plan near

May 4, 2011

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WASHINGTON — The top Democrat in the Senate on budget matters said yesterday he is preparing a fiscal blueprint to slash the deficit by $4 trillion over the upcoming decade — a plan built on the bipartisan findings of President Obama’s deficit commission.

Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, said the plan calls for a complete overhaul of the tax code — stripping numerous tax write-offs while lowering income tax rates — but would leave Social Security untouched. The overhaul would boost overall taxes by about $1 trillion over the coming decade.

Conrad briefed his Democratic colleagues on the draft plan, which, under Capitol Hill’s arcane budget process, is a blueprint setting a nonbinding framework for future legislation. The measure could come up for a committee vote next week, Conrad said.

The Senate Democratic plan would offer a counterpoint to a House GOP budget plan that passed last month. The GOP measure calls for a dramatic overhaul of Medicare that, for future retirees now 54 years old or younger, would turn the popular seniors’ health care program into a voucher-like system in which beneficiaries would purchase health insurance.

Conrad is also part of a so-called Gang of Six senators working on a separate track to devise a bipartisan plan that would seek to force Congress to pass deficit-slashing legislation. The group is struggling to agree on a complicated measure that set targets for spending cuts and tax increases. If Congress is unable to meet those targets, automatic spending cuts and tax increases would ensue.

The various maneuvering on the budget comes as out-of-control deficits force the government to borrow more than 40 cents of every dollar it spends — and Congress confronts a wrenching vote to permit the government to borrow even more than the $14.3 trillion of already accumulated federal debt. Lawmakers in both parties promise that measure will be accompanied by spending cuts.

Vice President Joe Biden is hosting a meeting tomorrow with a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers in hopes of working toward agreement on the budget. But the common wisdom is that the panel’s discussions may not bear much fruit since the panel is stocked with partisan loyalists from both political parties.

— Associated Press

Santorum establishes exploratory committee WASHINGTON — Former senator Rick Santorum is taking the next step toward a presidential bid. Santorum said yesterday he had established a presidential exploratory committee and would participate in tomorrow’s debate in South Carolina, an early presidential nominating state. The Pennsylvania Republican previously had filed a preliminary committee with the Federal Election Commission.

Establishing the presidential exploratory committee allows Santorum to raise and spend money but requires him to disclose his donors.

Santorum, who lost a bruising reelection bid in 2006, has been visiting traditional early nominating states and hiring staff.

Also yesterday, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman filed paperwork to form a political action committee, one of the first steps toward building a national political profile.

Spokesman Tim Miller said the filing is an “organizational step’’ and not a sign that Huntsman would launch a presidential campaign. Huntsman, a Republican, left his post as ambassador to China for the Obama administration last week.

— Associated Press