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 ccasteel@opubco.com Published: January 22, 2012

But he cautioned against any “false hope” that the senators could fashion a broad debt reduction plan that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would bring up for a vote.

He said he was concerned that signs of an improving economy have removed the immediacy of the problem for some in Congress.

“If we don't send a signal that we're making progress, we're going to get another downgrade on our debt” like the one made by Standard & Poor's in August.

Cole and Lankford expressed little optimism that much progress will be made this year while presidential — and congressional — politics are in full swing.

“My instinct is the year of compromise and great change will be 2013,” Cole said.

Medicare and Social Security

Lankford and Cole said the House budget to be written over the next two months likely would deal with the $1.2 trillion in cuts that the supercommittee failed to specify.

And they said their budget would go beyond that amount to tackle entitlements, even though there is little chance the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, would consider it.

Lankford said he expects the budget to include a variation of the Medicare plan approved last year. The new one, developed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, and Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, would allow seniors to stay in the traditional Medicare program but opt to take premium support to buy private insurance.

“It's not that dramatically different from what we did last year,” Lankford said. “It still bases the whole thing on premium support.”

Cole, who said Congress must change entitlement programs to make a meaningful impact on the debt, declined to speculate on what proposals might be made for Social Security if that program is included in the budget blueprint.

He noted, though, that there are only a few elements that can be changed, including the age at which benefits can be collected and the formula used to calculate benefits.