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A day after President Obama appointed a bipartisan commission to attack the record $1.6 trillion U.S. budget deficit, Rep. Barney Frank offered his own form of two-party agreement — criticizing both Democrats and Republicans for failing to adequately address the national deficit.
Speaking to WBUR on Friday, the Massachusetts congressman blasted Mr. Obama for sparing military spending from the proposed budget cuts, calling it "the area where I have my major difference with President Obama." While a majority of Senate Democrats support the commission's agenda, Frank said he will not take a position along party lines alone.
"To be very honest, if they do not include a reduction in this ever-increasing Pentagon budget, I intend to be very troublesome," Frank said. The military should not be given a pass on budget cuts, the congressman insisted, saying, "I won't vote for a commission that embodies that."
By voting for the war in Afghanistan, Frank said he understands the U.S. has an obligation to invest adequately and support its troops, but he believes the defense budget should be subject to the same scrutiny as all other spending. As an example, he said the "excessive use" of private contractors should be curtailed.
"If they do not include a reduction in this ever-increasing Pentagon budget, I intend to be very troublesome."
-- Rep. Barney Frank Frank said some of the blame falls less directly on Mr. Obama and more on the nature of the job as the leader of a world superpower. There is an "establishment trap," Frank said, which forces presidents, hampered with national security concerns, to push the Pentagon's budget up even as other areas are cut.
Frank also sees the country investing too much of its money abroad.
"The problem is we are substantially over-committed worldwide," Frank said. "We have to begin now to reduce those commitments. We have to begin now to undo some of the spending we're still doing to defeat the Soviet Union in the thermonuclear war. We should be withdrawing from Iraq much sooner than the president planned."
Frank also put blame on Republican leaders, who he said are only interested in political gains.
"It's becoming clear now that the dominant element of the Republican Party really does not want things to succeed," Frank said. "I honestly believe at this point that they are not going to cooperate on a jobs creation bill because the unemployment numbers getting better is a bad thing for them.
"And I think they are under some ideological constraints against cooperating with a deficit reduction," Frank added, "because you have to have a mix of spending reductions and you have to deal with the question of increased taxes."
Frank is an advocate of returning to Clinton-era tax rates, but said Republicans won't agree to the proposal.
"Unless there's no tax increases at all — that people making $1 million won't pay a penny of additional taxes, that we won't go back to the tax rates that we had under President Clinton, which was consistent with a very good economy — they'll oppose it," Frank said.
Despite Congress' partisan rancor, and his own two-party critiques, Frank nonetheless believes that the legislature could accept the new commission's recommendations — "if the public gets behind it."
"Members of Congress are not autonomous figures," he said.
Click "Listen Now" to hear the full interview with Rep. Barney Frank.
This program aired on February 19, 2010.
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