Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011 | 3 a.m.
In delivering the Republicans’ weekly address, Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada assumed a solemn tone to send his most stern message to Democrats: stop lying about Medicare and Social Security.
“Every member of Congress knows these programs are unsustainable in their current state...They can be fixed, but the lies have to stop. Nobody’s proposing that we end Medicare or Social Security,” Heller said. “If some in Washington would stop campaigning long enough to do their jobs, we could fix both and ensure their existence for generations to come.”
But while Heller urged bipartisanship to achieve “the solutions the American people are asking for,” the rest of his speech wasn’t a recipe for cooperation. It was a rather campaign-focused call to “change course” from the administration’s priorities to the GOP’s.
Heller listed stimulus spending, the health care law, “threats of cap-and-trade bill” and “efforts to pass card-check legislation” as evidence of Obama administration initiatives that are or soon may be “crippling employers, stifling economic growth, and killing jobs.” (The latter two initiatives were pursued during Obama’s first two years and likely won’t be revived as long as Congress remains divided.)
In their place, Heller advocated passing a balanced budget amendment, repealing the health care law, opening up the country to energy exploration, reversing regulations, and reforming the tax code.
He did not, noticeably, talk about the debt commission.
Heller was in the minority of both Republicans and Congress as a whole earlier this month when lawmakers voted to approved a long-elusive compromise to raise the debt ceiling and offset it with a series of cuts to the budget over the next ten years. Heller opposed the bill, though he said he was happy the debt limit was raised.
Since it passed, Heller’s been peppering Washington with calls for transparency that, in a way, are doubling as protest notices against the committee process the bill set up. Many lawmakers, Democrat and Republican, have already begun to question the authority given to the 12 members of Congress who will be hammering out a package of deficit reductions between now and Thanksgiving. Once concluded, their recommendations can’t be questioned or amended before they come to a vote, and if the changes don’t pass, across-the-board cuts take effect.
Heller’s chief act has been demanding transparency by writing letters to the Senate leaders and all the lawmakers serving on the commission and issuing a reminder a few days ago that anything short of full public access on the airwaves wouldn’t be good enough.
Interestingly enough, Heller never specifically mentioned Democrats or Obama in his address; his charges were simply directed against the administration and its supporters.
But the differences that exist in Congress over the issues Heller mentioned in his address are between Democrats and Republicans, with only a very few lawmakers excepted.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives will vote on a balanced budget amendment this fall; it’s part of the debt ceiling compromise. It’s not expected to pass.
Lawmakers will also debate changes to Medicare and Social Security as part of the upcoming process.
If the debt commission process succeeds, there are likely to be significant changes to the programs; if the process fails, all social spending will escape the automatic chops, save for a 2 percent cut to Medicare providers.
Heller and his chief rival for Nevada’s Senate seat in 2012, Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley, have taken opposite positions on those issues when they have had the opportunity to vote on them. Their race to fill the seat John Ensign vacated in May (Heller was appointed to fill it soon after) is expected to be among the closest in the nation.