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Government, Politics & Issues

Luetkemeyer says will back government shutdown during debt-limit talks

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 9, 2013 - U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, says he’s prepared to shut down the federal government and block a debt-ceiling deal, if that’s what it takes to force President Barack Obama to accept dramatic budget cuts – especially in the entitlement programs.

“The debt limit (fight) is going to be about reforming Medicare,’’ Luetkemeyer said Tuesday, as he addressed members of the Greater St. Charles Chamber of Commerce.

“The debt limit and the coming budget negotiations in March are where we have to make our stand.”

Luetkemeyer’s comments were among the first made by Missouri’s Republicans members of Congress, but were in line with the growing GOP talk in Washington, as Republicans seek to challenge President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats after the "fiscal cliff'' deal resulted in higher tax rates for many Americans.

Luetkemeyer said that he believes that many government programs can be trimmed, but emphasized that in his opinion, “Medicare is the 800-pound gorilla,” he went on. “Medicare is the main driver of our deficit problem.”

The congressman said he was open to various ideas on how to change the program – from raising the minimum age for benefits to 67 to turning the program into a type of voucher program, as House Budget chairman Paul Ryan has proposed.

Luetkemeyer told the crowd that Medicare “will be gone in 10 years’’ unless such changes are made; the program’s advocates say it is in better shape, but agree some changes need to be made.

“That’s what this debt limit negotiation is going to be about. It’s going to be about reforming Medicare,” the congressman continued. “We’re willing to go to the wall on that.”

Claims more public support for entitlement cuts

Luetkemeyer’s appearance in St. Charles was his first official stop since he was sworn in a week ago to represent Missour’s redrawn 3rd District, which now spans from St. Charles County to west of Jefferson City.

He  said afterward that what impressed him the most was that the St. Charles audience seemed to agree with his comments. “I think you saw the heads nodding when I said it’s time to make the cuts,’’ he said. “I got absolutely no push-back.”

The congressman said that the public appears to be finally accepting the necessity of tackling the unsustainable growth of Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.

The White House, however, has objected to linking any such discussion with the federal debt limit, now set at $16 trillion.  The debt limit refers to federal debt already incurred.

The limit is expected to be reached sometime in February and will need to be raised so that the United States can pay its bills and its creditors, President Barack Obama’s administration and economists have said. Otherwise, experts warn that a default could trigger a recession – and possible depression – in the United States and in the entire world.

But Luetkemeyer said that he was among the Republicans willing to risk the consequences and shut down the government, and even risk default, if that’s what it takes to force the president to agree to sharp spending cuts and to reform the nation’s tax system.

“With this particular debt-limit situation, it is where rubber has to meet the road,” he told reporters. “We have got to start getting our spending under control.”

Using the debt-ceiling debate may offer the GOP its strongest hand, Luetkemeyer added.

“This is what has to happen,” he said. “The debt limit and the budget extension (slated for late March) are the two points at which we believe we have the leverage so we can make the kinds of cuts and the reforms to how our government’s tax system works, so that we can change the direction of our economy and our country.”

Lays out government-shutdown options

Under the plan of action he would back, the United States would still pay its debts after the debt limit was breached – but little else – until a bipartisan deficit-reduction package is reached.

“When we shut the government down, what happens?” Luetkemeyer said, in response to an audience question.

“We have to pay interest on our debt. Social Security checks may get cut back. Medicare checks may be cut back. Unemployment benefits may be cut back or terminated,” he said. “Veterans benefits may be cut back. Medicaid -- the states may not get their Medicaid money, or it’s cut back, so we can pay the troops.”

Other federal functions, departments and buildings would be shut down, the congressman said, except for those needed to protect national security.

“If you’re a contractor doing business with the federal government, you may not get your check for a month,” Luetkemeyer said, until a deal is struck between Congress and the White House.

Luetkemeyer said it might take the nation several weeks to experience the full extent of the shutdown and even longer to reach a spending agreement. But he believes the result would be worth it. “It’s short-term pain for long-term gain,” he said.

“We are not going to blink,’’ Luetkemeyer asserted. “We have reached the point where we are tired of negotiating with someone who does not want to negotiate with us.”

Referring to the president, the congressman added, “It’s time for him to step up. It’s time for him to lead…If he’s not going to do it, we are.”

In the coming weeks, Luetkemeyer said, “Conservatives ought to continue to discuss this issue and frame it the way I have.”

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