TIME Congress

Hoyer Says It’s Crunch Time For a Grand Bargain

The House Democratic Whip says Congress can lay the groundwork for a budget deal even during a contentious midterm election year

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer called on Congress Monday to lay the groundwork for a sweeping budget deal or risk seeing America’s role as a global leader diminish.

“It’s at this moment—when we don’t have a crisis breathing down our necks—that we have the best chance to lay the groundwork for the hard decisions we will need to make,” Hoyer said at an event sponsored by the centrist Democratic group Third Way in Washington. Hoyer, speaking in the stately Columbus Room at Union Station, said a grand bargain would be the “single most effective action” to stimulate the economy and possibly “the only way” to achieve long-term fiscal sustainability, as the political risk would be shared.

President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have failed on multiple occasions to reach such a sweeping deal, and both have long since given up doing so for the rest of Obama’s time in office. The budget deal Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) pushed through Congress earlier this year removed billions of the across-the-board cuts for the so-called “sequester” over the next two years, but largely kept the status quo in the long-term, which satisfies neither Democrats nor Republicans.

“The groundwork for replacing the sequester should be laid before the Murray-Ryan deal expires,” Hoyer said. “Which is to say, soon.”

There is little chance that Congress will make substantial progress on the issue in a midterm election year. And the sides remain far apart on where the government should direct its funds. Hoyer said that interest payments on debt are increasingly crowding out investments in other areas—including Head Start and nutrition assistance—that Republicans largely oppose. Despite his push, Hoyer acknowledged that a grand bargain won’t happen in the next few months, and conceded uncertainly about what will happen over the next few years.

Obama’s proposed budget this year was largely seen as a political document meant to rile up the base in an election year. When asked why the President removed a measure known as chained consumer price index— which would measure inflation in such a way that would lower Social Security benefit levels—that he had included in previous years, Hoyer knocked Republicans for not taking an olive branch.

“He got no response,” said Hoyer. “Everything needs to be on the table.”

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