January 22, 2015 / 11:58 PM / 3 years ago

New U.S. Senate budget chairman eyes on-time budget, balance in decade

WASHINGTON, Jan 22 (Reuters) - New Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi said on Thursday he intends to follow the lead of House Republicans with a Senate budget plan that balances within 10 years, but with more of the savings up front.

Enzi, speaking to reporters for the first time since taking up the budget committee gavel, said he intends to have a Senate budget resolution passed by the April 15 statutory deadline.

“We’ll try to balance the budget in a 10-year period and we hope to do it without using gimmicks or bad accounting,” said Enzi, who is from Wyoming.

Eliminating deficits within 10 years would require some deep spending cuts, as Republicans have long ruled out any further tax increases.

The Congressional Budget Office is due out with new budget estimates on Monday, but it has previously forecast only a small decline this year from the $483 billion U.S. deficit in fiscal 2014. After that, however, the non-partisan CBO expects deficits to begin rising again due to the increasing costs of caring for the rapidly aging Baby Boom generation.

Enzi, an accountant by training, said many budgets in the past have pushed out actual savings into the later years of the 10-year budget window, making them less likely to be actually executed.

“I‘m going to try to get people to try to concentrate on how much deficit we have each year and get a little bit more done up front,” Enzi said.

Under Congress’ convoluted budgeting and spending process, the budgets passed by the Senate and House of Representatives are non-binding policy statements, but do set an overall spending cap for discretionary programs and government agencies. These are then used by the Appropriations Committees to pass spending bills for specific programs.

But the largest expenses come from federal benefits programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which run largely on autopilot and are frequent targets of Republican-proposed cuts.

Enzi, who a decade ago chaired the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said that he would propose some health care savings but did not offer specifics.

He also said that he has not yet made any decisions on how best to use budget reconciliation procedures, which allow budget legislation to bypass procedural hurdles in the Senate.

Some Republicans want to use these procedures to attach a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, to the budget, and Enzi said he will consider ideas until mid-March. (Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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