White House Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell said she
believes there is less appetite on Capitol Hill for the messy fiscal
standoffs that have taken place in recent years, such as the 2011
struggle over the debt limit and last October's budget fight that
led to a 16-day shutdown of the government.
In an interview with Reuters, Burwell pointed to the passage earlier
this month of a $1.1 trillion bill to keep the government funded for
the next nine months.
The vote to approve the budget bill followed an agreement reached in
December between Republican Representative Paul Ryan and Democratic
Senator Patty Murray that included some deficit reduction along with
a modest easing of automatic budget cuts known as the "sequester."
She said such deals suggested an interest in staying "away from a
path of crisis" and said that bodes well for passage of a debt limit
"How is it going to happen? I think it is going to happen," Burwell
said. She noted that the U.S. Congress — with a Republican-led House
of Representatives and a Democratic-led Senate — twice passed
increases in the debt ceiling last year.
"We've gotten there twice before, and I think we will get there,"
Under a deal that ended the government shutdown in October, Congress
suspended the debt ceiling until February 7. The government has
cash-management tools it can use to temporarily stave off default,
but Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has warned the government would
exhaust its borrowing capacity by late February.
Republican lawmakers huddling at a bayside resort in Cambridge,
Maryland, said they would insist on some concessions from President
Barack Obama in return for raising the borrowing cap.
Republicans are scheduled to talk about their strategy on the debt
limit on Friday, the final day of their three-day retreat. In
exchange for raising the debt ceiling, they are considering asking
for concessions ranging from expanded offshore energy production to
small tweaks in Obama's healthcare law to approval of the Keystone
XL oil pipeline.
In an interview on CNN on Thursday, Ryan said Republicans see the
debt limit debate as a time to engage in a discussion on ways to
rein in long-term debt and deficits.
"We will not default on our bonds as a country," Ryan said. "We know
that's not a good idea, but we don't want to let the moment pass by
without having a conversation about how can we make some
improvements so we don't keep having these big debt ceiling problems
day after day or year after year."
Burwell said comments from House of Representatives Speaker John
Boehner and other Republican leaders suggest they believe that
passing a debt limit increase is something that "just has to
Even so, it was not clear how far the Republicans might push their
demands for concessions with a White House that has said it will not
negotiate over the debt-limit increase. Failure to reach a deal
until the 11th hour has spooked investors in the past.
[to top of second column]
The debt-limit fights have been costly. In 2011, the standoff cost
the United States to lose its top-tier credit rating from Standard
While it was unclear how close the Treasury came to a debt default
last October, financial markets showed clear signs of stress, in
some cases shunning what has traditionally been regarded as the
safest, most liquid security on the planet: short-term U.S. Treasury
"MORE GROWTH, ENERGY, OPTIMISM"
The White House will unveil its annual budget proposal on March 4.
Burwell declined to preview any details of the budget but offered an
upbeat view of the nation's fiscal situation.
"We're at a place where there is more growth, energy and optimism,"
The Congressional Budget Office in November said the budget deficit
for fiscal year 2013, which ended in September, was $680 billion.
That was down from $1.089 trillion in 2012. The budget deficit
peaked at $1.413 trillion in 2009, CBO said.
"With regard to the question of the long-term deficit issues, one of
the main drivers of those costs is healthcare," Burwell said. "What
we've seen is for the first time in 50 years we've had the lowest
growth in healthcare costs, and those kinds of things are important
to contributing to that long-term problem."
Burwell would not comment on whether the president would renew his
offer of reining in entitlement programs. Proposals in Obama's
budget last year for curbing entitlement spending led to frictions
with some congressional Democrats.
"We still think there are long-term deficit issues that you need to
focus on," Burwell said. In the budget proposal, "you're going to
see an emphasis on the kinds of investments we need to make in the
short term, that are important to both short-term growth and
long-term growth" such as spending on roads, bridges and ports, she
(With additional reporting by David Lawder in Cambridge, Maryland;
editing by Caren Bohan and Ken Wills)
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