Lawmakers take aim at spending

WASHINGTON — In Congress, lawmakers from both parties have begun pushing bipartisan plans aimed at cutting federal spending, efforts that are proceeding slowly — but they are proceeding.

"As I left my office, some of my staff said, 'Good luck walking that plank,' said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. "This is politically risky. This is like saying no when you're a parent."

Tuesday she joined Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. and others to outline a plan to mandate sharply reduced spending over 10 years.

It was the third time in recent days that budget-writers have made serious efforts to promote bipartisan dialogue on budget cuts.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., are urging changes in the budget process that would give lawmakers two years, instead of the current 12 months, to write a budget. Budget watchdogs like the idea, saying it would lead to more thoughtful decision-making.

And Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Tuesday urged the major players to come together face to face.

"I would much prefer that there would be a summit with the White House, the congressional leaders — Republican and Democrat, House and Senate . . . sit down and craft a long-term plan to get us back on track," he said. "I think that would be the best way to proceed because I think it is very important this be done before we get into a debate on the debt-limit extension."

Congress will consider soon whether to raise the current $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, which could be reached as soon as the end of next month. Republicans have threatened to hold the effort to raise the debt ceiling hostage until they've forced agreement on deep spending cuts — a tactic the Obama administration warns could panic financial markets.

Neither congressional leaders nor the White House have endorsed any specific paths to deficit reduction.

The McCaskill bill would cap all spending — including Medicare and Social Security — at 20.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product, in line with the 40-year spending average. Spending currently averages about 24.7 percent of GDP.

The plan would mandate a "glide path" to the lower figure, so the cuts wouldn't jolt the economy.