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Political Notebook

Seeking deficit deal, House GOP won’t push Medicare vouchers

May 6, 2011

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WASHINGTON — The GOP plan to replace Medicare with vouchers will have to wait, party leaders acknowledged yesterday as lawmakers bowed to political realities in pursuing a deal to allow more government borrowing in exchange for big spending cuts.

Both sides hinted at movement, and Vice President Joe Biden reported progress from an initial negotiating session.

Spending cuts and increasing the amount of money the government can keep borrowing to pay its bills are “practically and politically connected,’’ Biden said at the start of budget meetings with lawmakers at Blair House, the guest residence across the street from the White House.

The House Republican whose committee oversees Medicare said he is open to other approaches besides the voucher plan that recently passed the House after a contentious debate that appears to have hurt the party with older voters.

Republicans got an earful from their constituents on Medicare during a recent congressional recess.

Michigan Representative Dave Camp, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, said he supports the GOP approach but isn’t willing to go to the mat for legislation that has no prospects of becoming law.

“I’m not interested in laying down more markers,’’ said Camp. “I’m interested in solutions. . . . Let’s figure out where there is common ground and let’s get there as soon as we can.’’

Asked about Camp’s comments, House Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, said they are “a recognition of the political realities that we face.’’ Nonetheless, Boehner said the GOP Medicare remake remains on the table.

“Let me make this clear,’’ Boehner said. “When it comes to increasing the debt limit and the need to have reductions in spending, nothing is off the table except raising taxes.’’

President Obama and lawmakers of both parties face an Aug. 2 deadline to enact legislation that permits the government to increase its borrowing authority and meet its obligations to lenders. Failure to raise the debt limit beyond the current $14.3 trillion would call into question the creditworthiness of the US government and trigger an economic crisis.

“All of us understand we have got to achieve results,’’ House majority leader Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, said after the meeting. The two sides agreed “to find commonality’’ and there was “general agreement things have to change,’’ he added.

“You’re not going to get to the big nuclear political issues,’’ said a Democratic official who was in the room. “But there’s going to have to be enough give and take on the other pieces that you get enough of a deal to be credible.’’ The Democrat required anonymity to speak more frankly about the negotiations.

“Knowing that we are very far apart between the president, the Senate, and where we are, we are not under any illusion that we’re going to get some grand slam agreement,’’ the House Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan, said yesterday morning. “Let’s get a single or a double, let’s get a down payment, let’s get some spending cuts, some spending controls as part of this.’’

Negotiators planned to meet again Tuesday.

— Associated Press

House chairman says GE will fund 2d F-35 engine WASHINGTON — General Electric Co. will self-fund development of its alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in the 2012 fiscal year, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said yesterday.

In April, the Pentagon terminated the program, which Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said is not needed. Congress would have to reinstate the program, which has widespread support among members of the Massachusetts delegation, in order for GE and its partner, Rolls Royce, to have access to Defense Department test facilities. The engine would be built in several GE Aviation plants, including one in Lynn, Mass.

The GE alternative engine is 80 percent done, and the company will not lobby this year for the “final 20 percent’’ of funding needed, said Representative Howard P. “Buck’’ McKeon, a California Republican.

McKeon spoke at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on his vision for the Pentagon’s 2012 budget and beyond. GE is developing the engine for the Lockheed Martin Corp. stealth fighter to compete with primary engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.

— Bloomberg News

At debate, GOP candidates slam Obama foreign policy GREENVILLE, S.C. — In their first formal debate, a group of GOP presidential contenders hailed the death of Osama bin Laden but said that it not tempered their view that President Obama has been weak in his international leadership.

Obama deserves credit for “making a tough call and being decisive as it related to finding and killing Osama bin Laden,’’ former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty said last night. But he added: “That moment is not the sum total of America’s foreign policy.’’

Pawlenty said that Obama as a candidate had opposed techniques that “led to bin Laden’s being identified and killed’’— an apparent reference to harsh interrogation tactics.

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum added: “If you look at what President Obama has done right in foreign policy, it has been a continuation of Bush policies.’’

The fact that foreign-policy questions dominated the kickoff debate, however, was evidence of how bin Laden’s killing has thrown the GOP presidential field off balance, if only temporarily. Domestic economic concerns have been expected to drive the presidential race.

Only five potential candidates showed up for the debate. Among them, Pawlenty is the only one considered to have a strong shot at the nomination. In addition to Santorum, the others were Representative Ron Paul of Texas, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, and former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive Herman Cain.

— Washington Post

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