Q&A: Fiscal Summit

if the benefits accrue in the out years.  There are situations in terms of people, if they’ve got health insurance, sort of liking what they’ve got now, they just want it for cheaper.  There are issues in terms of providers and them feeling like they’re getting squeezed.

And so making sure that all that stuff is surfaced in public and we’re educating the public on some of these issues can be very important if we’re going to make progress because — you know, some of these things will ultimately involve some tough decisions and some tough votes.

So, budget process — Kent, you participated and I want to get both your views and John Spratt’s views on — I don’t know if John is still here; there he is — on budget process and how you think we’re going to need to clean this stuff up.

SENATOR CONRAD:  Well, first of all, thank you for doing this.  I thought it was a terrific start in the White House.  I think Bob Greenstein said it very well when he talked about us being on an unsustainable course — the debt being the threat, because we’ve doubled the debt in the last eight years; tripled foreign holdings of the debt — last year when we went out to finance this debt, 68 percent came from foreign enemies.  So that creates a vulnerability.

How do we address it?  That is the $64,000 question.  And that’s what we addressed in our group.  I think it’s fair to say there were different views.  Many of us believe it’s going to take some special process to bring all of the players together to write a plan so that we see the tradeoffs between what’s available for health care reform, which without question is the 800-pound gorilla; Social Security, which also has to be addressed for the long term; and revenue.

Revenue is the thing almost nobody wants to talk about, but I think if we’re going to be honest with each other, we better recognize that is part of the solution, as well.  And it’s very hard to know what you are going to do with Medicare unless you know what revenue is going to be.  Very hard to know what you’re going to do with Social Security without knowing what revenue is going to be.  So somehow we’ve got to come together around a plan, and of course that depends on presidential leadership, which you certainly provided here today.

THE PRESIDENT:  All right.  Thank you.


REPRESENTATIVE SPRATT:  I got a bum leg, Mr. President — you’ll have to excuse me, sir.  Thank you for holding this.

I participated in the 1997 balanced budget negotiations; that was the last time we were at the White House to discuss — in common, Democrats and Republicans — some common ground that we could both take up (inaudible) issues.  Thank you for doing this again — (inaudible).

I would agree with Kent that we agree we need a special process.  We didn’t come to final agreement on exactly what that process would be — would it be a

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