WASHINGTON – The Louisiana congressional delegation is offering mixed reactions to President Barack Obama’s three days of visits to Congress this week, but they do agree they are glad the president is reaching out to them.
Obama met Tuesday with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and the rest of the Senate Democrats and on Wednesday he talked with U.S. House Republicans, who have been his staunchest opponents.
He is meeting Thursday with U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and other Senate Republicans to continue discussions on budget talks and differing approaches to address the federal deficit, including the $85 billion in across-the-board sequester budget cuts that began going into effect earlier this month.
U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said Obama needs to do more than just talk about finding compromises.
“He (Obama) clearly wants more taxes,” Cassidy said. “But (he says) not much more. We don’t know what it means.”
Most congressional Republicans have refused to accept any additional tax hikes. But Obama and Democrats, such as Landrieu and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, are determined to increase federal revenues while also making significant budget cuts.
Obama is asking for a “balanced” plan that includes significant budget cuts but also increased revenues by eliminating some tax loopholes and exemptions that mostly benefit the wealthy, such as the oft-repeated corporate jet exemption. Republicans are refusing to consider additional revenue increases.
White House spokeswoman Joanna Rosholm released a statement that called Wednesday’s meeting a “good, substantive exchange” and that Obama “enjoyed the conversation.” Obama and House Republicans do not need to agree on everything in order to make some substantive compromises, she stated.
The primary U.S. House budget proposal, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is intended to balance the federal budget in 10 years. Democrats contend the cuts are too steep and would decimate education, health care and many other services.
Louisiana’s U.S. House Republicans praised the Ryan budget as a way to rein in federal spending and keep programs like Medicare from going bankrupt. Democrats criticized the Ryan plan.
Richmond said in a prepared statement: “I am absolutely disgusted by the ‘new’ Ryan budget because once again, it confirms that House Republicans have chosen to neglect the most vulnerable among us and endanger hard-won health care gains.
“This budget is full of stale and dangerous proposals that gut programs that invest in health care, education and infrastructure, programs that Louisiana’s working families need,” Richmond added.
The new Democratic-led, Senate budget proposal, by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., released Wednesday, focuses on a combination of budget cuts and new revenues. Obama is scheduled belatedly to release his budget proposal later this month.
As early as Thursday, the U.S. Senate could approve a continuing resolution to extend the current federal budget and avoid a potential government shutdown in April.
Landrieu praised the president’s efforts to reach out to Congress on budgetary and other issues. The focus has to be on economic growth, she said, and not just relying on budget cuts alone. The Senate proposal represents a “very fine budget blueprint,” she said.
“We cannot keep lurching as he (Obama) said from one man-made crisis to the next,” Landrieu said, arguing that Republicans have rejected all of the president’s “long-term growth plans” thus far. “So I’m glad to see he’s making the effort again and, hopefully, this time he can be successful.”
Landrieu said she is open to all things being on the table when it comes to eliminating some tax loopholes and exemptions as a part of larger tax reform.
Landrieu, who is one of the strongest Democratic advocates of the oil-and-gas industry, said the industry must not be “singled out” for tax hikes.
After the Wednesday meeting, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, who chairs the Republican Study Committee, argued that any additional tax revenue increases must be taken off the table.
“There’s the ability for us to reach common ground on a lot of issues but, ultimately, the president is going to have to agree to work with us on getting our economy moving again, on controlling spending, on dealing with the big challenges that are facing our country right now and that means the idea of more taxes has got to go by the wayside,” Scalise said. “We’re not going to support any new taxes.”
Scalise said they discussed finding “common ground” on wasteful spending and duplication that can be axed.
Scalise said he pushed Obama to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas to create more jobs and energy production. The president responded that a decision is coming in two weeks or so.