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Deal is a small step toward budget sanity

THE budget deal reached by Congress and forwarded to the President is hardly groundbreaking, but it is encouraging.  It's a bipartisan plan that avoids another government shutdown and provides some certainty for the rest of the country, which still expects some sanity out of Washington.

Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin voted for the budget deal. On the House side, Democrat Nick Rahall and Republican Shelley Moore Capito voted for the bill, while Republican David McKinley voted against it.

The House and Senate blueprint for spending for the government through 2015 rolls back some of the across-the-board sequestration cuts, increasing costs by $62 billion, but it raises $85 billion through a series of measures.

Those measures include an increase in airline security fees, raising the amount federal workers hired starting next year must contribute to their retirement, and slightly reducing the retirement benefits for some members of the military. It's the adjustment in military pensions that has caused the most controversy.

Under the proposals, military retirees with 20 years of service who are under 62 will have their automatic cost-of-living increases in their pensions reduced by one percent.  The measure includes a "claw-back" provision that gives those veterans a one-time payment restoring those cuts when they reach 62. The measure would save $6.2 billion over 10 years.

Veterans groups and their supporters claim it's unfair to target one group, especially defenders of the country, for a reduction. Manchin, who supported the budget bill, wondered on Talkline last week why all other government retirees escaped pain.

It's a reasonable argument.  The answer, however, is not reversing the very slight cost savings for one pension program, but rather applying the same budget cutting discipline to other entitlements.

Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, authors of the 2010 National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Report, said, "The deal also takes some modest steps in addressing long-term fiscal liabilities by adopting scaled-back versions of policies we recommended."

But, they caution, this is only a beginning. "The fundamental fiscal challenges we identified in the 2010 report . . . and the need for reforms of entitlement programs and the tax code go unaddressed," they said.   

Meanwhile, Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf reminded lawmakers again last month that the U.S. is on an "unsustainable" budget course.

The budget deal by Congress was only a small step toward fiscal sanity; the real heavy lifting is still ahead. But at least it was movement in the right direction.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.


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