Pryor says spending deal possible


LITTLE ROCK — U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said Tuesday he is optimistic that Congress will come to an agreement and avoid $100 billion in automatic spending cuts in February.

Pryor also said he and others in the state’s congressional delegation will be meeting with the Air Force chief of staff later this month when he visits the Arkansas National Guard’s 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith in advance of base closure decisions.

Pryor said that “gridlock and dysfunction” created the fiscal cliff of automatic tax increases and steep budget cuts that loomed for months and was set to go into effect Jan. 1 without congressional action.

After marathon negotiations, Congress on New Year’s Day passed a compromise bill that averted tax increases for most Americans but pushed the fate of $100 billion in spending cuts back to the end of February.

“That’s a terrible way to govern,” Pryor said Tuesday during a speech to the Downtown Little Rock Kiwanis Club.

“In the end (it) got solved in a bipartisan way,” he said. “We’re still going to have other challenges this year that we’re going to have to deal with.”

The automatic budget reductions “is not the way to cut,” Pryor told reporters later.

“If there are programs that work, we need to fund those programs, if they don’t work we need to get rid of them. But an across-the-board cut doesn’t reward efficiency or effectiveness or anything,” he said. “When we left (Washington) a few days ago every senator I talked to sounded like they were pretty committed to getting back … and trying to get some of the remaining fiscal cliff issues taken care of.”

Tax reform — including eliminating loopholes and broadening the tax base — as well as reforming entitlement programs are key to reducing spending, a necessary component of meeting the next fiscal cliff deadline, he said.

“I think fiscal cliff has to include a long-term deal, or agreement, to stabilize the U.S.’s finances, which means some tax reform, and it also means some spending reform and we need to do that long-term for the country,” he said. “We’ve been living beyond our means, way, way too long … so, I’m hoping what we see are some large agreements, the so called big deal, on the fiscal cliff.”

Pryor to the civic club that he , U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and possibly others in the state’s congressional delegation will meet with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III later this month in Fort Smith to discuss the 188th Fighter Wing.

In December, Congress passed a $640.5 billion defense authorization bill that included replacing A-10s at the 188th with a drone mission. Pryor said the delegation would try to impress upon Welsh the importance of the 188th to the state.

“We’re going to talk about the A-10, talk about the 188th and try to make sure that we have an enduring mission there,” the senator said. “One of the things that the bean counters in the Air Force just don’t realize and can’t get through their heads is what a tremendous asset we have there in Fort Smith because you have Fort Chaffee right there and you have all that air space.”