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Oklahoma's delegation sees two certainties in the 2112 congressional session: Debt and taxes

Oklahoma Reps. Tom Cole and James Lankford expect that House Republicans once again will propose major changes in entitlement spending, while Sen. Tom Coburn resumes talks with the Gang of Six on debt reduction.
BY CHRIS CASTEEL Published: January 22, 2012

— Despite the political risks in a highly charged election year, House Republicans could push through a budget that proposes major changes to Medicare and Social Security, according to two Oklahoma lawmakers on the House Budget Committee.

Reps. Tom Cole, R-Moore, and James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said they expected to craft a budget that addresses entitlement spending, even though House Republicans were hammered politically for a 2011 budget that called for ending Medicare as an open-ended medical insurance plan for seniors.

“This House will make some really tough decisions,” Cole said.

The House and Senate both will be in session this week for the first time this year, and President Barack Obama is to deliver the State of the Union address Tuesday.

The contentious 2011 session had a heavy emphasis on spending and tax cuts, and lawmakers will pick up right where they left off.

First, by the end of February, Congress will have to decide how to finance an extension of the payroll tax cut for the rest of the year.

Also left over from 2011 is the requirement for another $1.2 trillion in cuts that were part of the debt ceiling deal. The congressional supercommittee failed to come up with a plan to make those cuts; if no agreement is reached by the end of the year, the Pentagon will bear nearly half of that $1.2 trillion, on top of nearly $500 billion in spending reductions it must already make over the next 10 years.

To some, the cuts that were part of the debt ceiling deal aren't nearly enough to address the nation's long-term debt problems.

“I'm convinced now more than ever that the biggest issue is not our amount of debt,” Lankford said in an interview. “It's that we have no plan to cut our debt — that we just continue to add to it.”

Gang of Six talking again

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, who spent months last year working on a fiscal plan with a bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of Six before dropping out to develop his own $9 trillion proposal, said last week that the Gang of Six has been talking again in recent weeks.

Coburn said the senators are discussing a plan that would go well beyond the $1.2 trillion still to be cut.

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