WASHINGTON -- There have been many attempts to slay the deficit monster that lurks in the appropriations committee rooms of Congress, only to see it return to life more menacing than ever.
This week, an army of determined budget warriors, sent here by a fed-up electorate last year, are going to try to kill the budget behemoth once and for all.
The deficit monster has withstood many attacks in the past, surviving Gramm-Rudman-Hollings in the 1980s, the pay-go rule in the 1990s that required commensurate tax increases or budget cuts to offset higher spending, and a number of budget-cutting bills that failed in one way or another to drive a stake through its heart.
But this time the deficit hawks say it's all-out war. They are armed to the teeth with a battery of lethal weapons: caps on future spending, preventing any further rise in the debt ceiling to shut down large sections of the government, and that old standby, an iron-clad balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
President Obama and the Democrats on Capitol Hill -- the champions of big government -- are putting up a fierce fight, and they have a lot of weapons at their disposal, too.
Let's look at each of these plans and see what their chances are.
-- The so-called "cut, cap and balance" plan offered by House Republicans would immediately cut a paltry $111 billion from the fiscal 2012 budget, exempting Social Security, Medicare and defense; set statutory spending caps over 10 years, perhaps at 18 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, down sharply from the current 24 percent; and a constitutional amendment to force Congress to balance its budget every year, which would require ratification by three-fourths of the 50 states.
Supporters say all three would have to be approved before they would vote to raise the debt limit. But the plan's chances of passing the Democrat-run Senate are zero. And even if it did, Obama said Monday that he would veto it.
-- There are those in the House who say that no matter what is brought before them to cut the deficit, they will not vote to raise the debt limit under any circumstances. There have been weeks of bitter debate over the consequences of this action, with opponents saying it would lead to an unprecedented default on our debts and plunge the economy into a recession, and proponents insisting that it would do no such thing.
But after writing checks for interest payments on the federal debt and paying for entitlements, defense and other critical programs, we would still have to forgo funding for many programs, from veterans to homeland security to cancer research to food and drug safety. It's unlikely Congress will want to do that.
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