Despite Partisan Clashes, Political Climate Open To 'Adult' Budget Debate

Media outlets report that no such serious discussion can be held without including entitlement programs such as Medicare, but public opinion continues to be a wildcard that could undermine momentum. And, as the latest short-term, current-year spending bill nears its expiration, Stateline reports that the main state-level safety net programs like Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program would not be impacted by a government shutdown.

The Wall Street Journal: Serious Debate On The Budget Deficit Has Started
Away from the shrill noise of Congress's battle over spending this year, Washington has quietly begun the most serious debate on long-term deficit-reduction in decades — the "adult conversation" that political leaders have said will be needed to address this fiscal year's forecast of a $1.65 trillion deficit and the nation's long-term fiscal woes. Even as the parties have deadlocked over discretionary spending cuts involving less than 2 percent of the $3.7 trillion budget, the political climate is growing more hospitable to the kind of grand bargain needed to rein in the rest of the budget — potentially encompassing the tax code, the defense budget and entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security (Hook and Bendavid, 3/14).

Bloomberg/The New York Times: Letter From Washington: When It Comes to The Deficit, Resolve Is Weak
A Bloomberg National Poll published last week, in line with other surveys, is instructive. Americans consider the widening deficit and debt a big deal; they also reject most of the measures necessary to deal with the threat by warning against touching entitlements like Medicare and Social Security or popular discretionary spending programs. The public believes significant deficit reduction is possible without raising revenue, while also wanting to raise taxes on wealthier Americans (Hunt, 3/13).

Stateline: States Don't See Crisis In Federal Shutdown — Yet
States rely on the federal government for huge sums of money to pay for programs such as Medicaid, food stamps and unemployment benefits. But federal funding for the most crucial social safety net programs is unlikely to be interrupted in the event of a shutdown, according to federal officials who oversee the funds. Two of the biggest pots of federal money for state-run health care, for instance, would remain accessible even if a government shutdown happens. Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program — which together insure nearly 60 million low-income people nationwide — are considered "essential" and would not be suspended (Gramlich, 3/14).

And in other news related to Capitol Hill's difficulties with reaching agreement on government spending for the current year:

Politico: Lisa Murkowski Backs Planned Parenthood
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has come out in opposition to the House's attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, making her the first Republican senator to specifically support the beleaguered organization. "I believe Planned Parenthood provides vital services to those in need and disagree with their funding cuts in the bill," Murkowski wrote in a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Vice Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). "I ask you to consider these programs going forward to determine if there is room for allowing continued funding" (Kliff, 3/11).

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