Welch Calls For New Approach To Budget Cuts

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(Host) Congressman Peter Welch is urging his colleagues to consider a budget reduction plan that includes changes to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Welch says such changes are needed to truly address the nation’s fiscal problems.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The U.S. House this week is debating over 400 amendments to a budget bill that’s designed to cut spending in the current fiscal year by at least $60 billion.

Congressman Peter Welch says the cuts would affect virtually every federal program including low income heating assistance, Pell grants for college students, community block grants, and funding for additional police officers.

Welch says Republican House leaders are taking the wrong approach with this bill.

(Welch) "We have a serious fiscal challenge. We’ve got to bring our budget into balance. The problem with the approach we’re taking is that we’re focusing solely on what’s called the domestic discretionary spending that’s only 12% of the budget. So even if you cut it out entirely you wouldn’t make a big dent in the problem."

(Kinzel) Instead, Welch says the time has come to have an honest discussion about the future of all the big ticket items in Washington.

(Welch) "We need a common sense approach and a common sense approach that has you look at all the elements; defense, the line items in the appropriations bill, entitlements, and revenues and unless you’re willing to look at everything you’re not going to be successful. That’s really the bottom line."

(Kinzel) Welch acknowledges that his approach may not be popular with some of his Democratic colleagues who don’t want to make any changes to Social Security or Medicare.

(Welch) "Sustainability requires some reforms and that is essential and I think Democrats who just automatically want to have Social Security and Medicare off the table have to focus on the fact that you have to do things to ensure it’s sustainable and is there for seniors."

(Kinzel) The current federal funding law runs out on March 4th.  If Republicans and Democrats don’t reach agreement on a package of spending cuts in the next 2 weeks, there’s a possibility that the federal government could be shut down. Welch says that would be a disaster.

(Welch) "I think the extent that we end up in a shutdown it is a failure of the two sides to come together. Congress has to do better in solving problems – there’s not a perfect solution."

(Kinzel) The House is expected to complete work on this budget bill by the end of the week. It will then be considered in the Senate where Democratic leaders say they’ll restore a number of the cuts.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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