Livingston says Congress and White House need to address the budget

A handful of Louisiana business leaders and former politicians trekked to Washington this week as part of a national “Fix the Debt” lobbying effort with members of Congress.

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston, R-Metairie, and Dominik Knoll, who is the chief executive officer of the World Trade Center in New Orleans, were among the members of the Louisiana chapter of the Campaign to Fix the Debt pushing for more bipartisan efforts to significantly reduce the nation’s federal debt that is approaching $17 trillion.

“If it’s not fixed and if it’s not addressed, it’s going to get exponentially worse in the future,” Livingston said. “The entire economy will suffer.”

The campaign is pushing the budget plan touted by Erskine Bowles, who was a White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration, and Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, who co-chaired President Barack Obama’s deficit committee in 2010.

The Simpson-Bowles plan called for $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade through budget cuts and about $600 billion in new tax revenues by reducing some tax breaks.

A big part of the plan involves cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security by changing eligibility ages, increasing some Medicare premiums for the wealthy, and reducing cost-of-living adjustment benefits in Social Security.

“The fact is we can’t keep going the way we’re going,” Livingston said of the need for “entitlement reforms.”

Livingston chaired the House Appropriations Committee in the late 1990s when the federal budget was last “virtually balanced” under Clinton. “That’s changed a lot since then,” Livingston said, citing the federal debt that began growing under George W. Bush and has continued under Obama.

Louisiana generates more revenue through exports, such as seafood, per person than any other state in the nation, Knoll said.

But that “per capita exporter” statistic would change eventually unless the government begins to rein in its federal debt.

Knoll said the trip to Washington was to demonstrate that the constituencies of members are Congress are watching and that action is needed.

He called the trip a success, but he also bemoaned the partisan divides in Congress.

“I think generally speaking … it’s not a great time because issues like fixing the debt and other big issues need broad bipartisan support,” Knoll said.

Livingston used stronger language to criticize the current lack of compromise in Congress.

“I’d like to see them do a little something here and there … but they can’t seem to get anything done and it’s bugging the heck out of me,” Livingston said.

The partisan budget divide involves Republicans blocking the House and Senate from entering into a conference committee to attempt to mesh out a compromise between the competing budgets passed by the GOP-led House and
the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“They’re apart by close to $1 trillion, and I don’t anticipate that’ll change,” Livingston said.

He argued that both parties must first focus on finding compromise on overall spending levels rather than the details of the differing budget plans.