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Members Preview Budget Fight on Sunday Shows

The issue of deficits and spending dominated the talk show circuit Sunday, just as Members prepared to return to Washington from a two-week recess to tackle the issue of raising the debt limit.

House Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen said it was “reckless” for some conservative Republicans to hinge their support for a debt limit increase on other budget reforms.

“Should we work together to come up with a deficit-reduction plan? Yes. And we should do it now,” the Maryland Democrat said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “But nobody should take the position that if they don’t get 100 percent of what they want in terms of deficit reduction, that they are going to threaten to put people out of work. That’s just reckless.”

Appearing on the same program, Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman John Barrasso said some conditions will have to be met in order for President Barack Obama to win some GOP support.

“I’m not ready to give the president what he wants,” the Wyoming Republican said. “And what the president is asking for is a blank check and a new credit card. And that’s absolutely irresponsible. We need to quit the spending and cap the spending.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has said she won’t vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling unless the health care overhaul enacted last year is defunded, said she also wants the United States to focus on paying off its debt first.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that by increasing the debt limit — the ability for the federal government to keep borrowing — that somehow that’s going to show the world that we’re even more creditworthy, because we’re borrowing,” the Minnesota Republican said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin has responded that prioritizing payments to investors over other U.S. obligations would be default by another name. “Well, that’s his opinion,” Bachmann responded Sunday, insisting that she is not advocating defaulting.

Ongoing budget talks between two groups — the Senate’s “gang of six” and Vice President Joseph Biden’s newly formed bicameral and bipartisan budget working group — will also draw attention over the next few weeks. The three Republicans and three Democrats in the Senate working group have kept their discussions under wraps, and member Kent Conrad offered no hints Sunday of what they might unveil.

“I can say we’ve made enormous progress in the group, and I hope that we’re able to announce an agreement soon,” the North Dakota Democrat, who is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “If we don’t, we’re simply not going to be relevant, because this debate marches on.”

He added that he’s optimistic that the group will put forth a plan. “Look, I have spent eight months on the commission — the [president’s] fiscal commission,” he said. “I have spent five months in this negotiation. I wouldn’t have spent all this time if I didn’t think there was a serious chance of reaching an agreement.”

Conrad said he was not prepared to weigh in on a proposal that would cap deficits, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has endorsed. Conrad said he first needs to see the details, but ultimately he wants a comprehensive plan that includes tax and spending reforms.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, appearing on the same program, challenged Conrad’s bipartisan group to release an alternative to the budget resolution authored by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which the lower chamber passed along party lines last month.

“We’ve got an unsustainable system when it comes to Medicare,” the South Carolina Republican said. “What Paul Ryan did, he saved it from what I believe to be a complete failure over time. If you can get a better way to do it, do it. But just criticizing someone who is trying to fix a problem doesn’t impress me. You’ve got a better alternative, put it on the floor and let’s vote on it.”

Ryan’s plan doesn’t have the votes to pass in the Senate, Graham added. Ryan, who appeared on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, acknowledged his plan “could hurt us politically.” But, he said, “I don’t care about that.”