Hearings On The Hill

Hearings On The Hill

Notes from Jessie Gibbons, TSCL Legislative Analyst

In February, TSCL attended two Congressional Committee hearings on President Obama’s 2012 Budget.  The House Budget Committee held a hearing with Jacob Lew, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing with Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services.

At the Budget Committee Hearing, a clear partisan divide was evident.  Democrats on the Committee viewed the President’s budget favorably, while Republicans were frustrated that President Obama did not go far enough in cutting the deficit.  In his opening statement, Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) expressed his disappointment by stating, “Instead of confronting our debt head on, the President has presented us with a budget that spends too much, borrows too much, and taxes too much.”

Every Republican on the Committee expressed similar feelings.  Many were frustrated that the budget plan did not tackle the entitlement programs, and many were disappointed that the plan did not include any of the major suggestions made by the deficit commission.

The Democrats on the Budget Committee, on the other hand, seemed satisfied with the plan.  Most agreed that it strikes a good balance between controlling spending and investing in the future.  Jacob Lew, Director of the OMB, stressed the fact that the plan stabilizes the deficit at 3% of the gross domestic product (GDP) by the middle of the decade.  Like many Democrats on the committee, he believes that the plan effectively addresses the deficit in the short and medium term.  However, he stated that much more attention should be given to the long-term plan.

During the Senate Finance Committee Hearing, the atmosphere was very similar. Democrats on the committee viewed the plan favorably, while Republicans were disappointed.  Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) stressed the fact that the entitlement programs must face reform.  He also expressed his hope that the doctor payment fix will be permanently addressed this year.  He was disappointed with the President’s proposal to temporarily pay for the doctor fix for just three years.  This issue seemed to have strong bipartisan support among committee members and was brought up a number of times at the hearing.

Another concern for members on the committee was the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, which was passed with the healthcare overhaul law.  Senator John Thune (R-SD) seemed particularly concerned about this program, and stated that he hopes it will be repealed.  Secretary Kathleen Sebelius agreed with him, and mentioned that it will not be implemented unless the Department of Health and Human Services can be sure that it is a stable and solvent program.

During Tuesday’s hearings, members of the committees – particularly Republicans – expressed a number of concerns with the President’s budget plan.  While the budget proposal may act as a blueprint in the months ahead, it’s clear that there is much more to be done before a final 2012 budget is approved.