Deficit Commission Fails To Pass Plan


WASHINGTON -- President Obama's fiscal commission fell short of reaching consensus on a plan to shave $3.8 trillion from the federal deficit over the next nine years.

Fourteen votes were required for the plan to move forward for a vote in Congress, but the fiscally hawkish proposal garnered support from only 11 members of the 18-person panel.

Commission co-chairmen Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, and retired Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), drew national ire on Nov. 10 with their 'chairman's mark' proposal, which would have, among other things, raised the retirement age and resulted in higher taxes for millions of middle-class Americans.

But after weeks of fraught negotiations -- and having worked on the plan for 10 months -- the co-chairmen were unable to convince 14 of their colleagues to support the hawkish plan.

The plan was endorsed by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), as well as Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.), and Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H).

Recognizing they did not have the critical consensus, the panel adjourned Friday without so much as taking a formal vote.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) objected to the plan over cuts to Social Security and Medicare, while Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) told reporters at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor yesterday that he couldn't support the proposal because it reinforces President Obama's health care law.

"I think it makes health care dramatically worse," Ryan said. "I'm trying to be guarded in my comments, because I really respect what Erskine and Alan have done."

The co-chairman have been bracing for failure, saying that their greatest ambition is merely to start a conversation about how to rein in the national debt.

"Our goal has been really simple: To start an adult conversation about the dangers of the deficit we are running," Bowles told reporters earlier this week. "It is the exact same conversation that every family, every single business, every state and every municipality has been having for the last several years."

House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) echoed that statement in the following statement on Friday.

"Though we may not see eye-to-eye on the specifics, Republicans and Democrats can surely agree that getting our long-term deficit under control will require major entitlement reform," said Cantor in a statement after the vote. "The more ideas that are brought to the table, the better, and we must not allow the urgency of the news cycle to force the demonization of ideas in their infancy. I believe that these type of efforts will set the stage for concrete action."

But many are pleased with the news, insisting there are more progressive ways to go about reducing the country's $13.7 trillion deficit.

"The advocates for the misguided recommendations from the 11 commissioners will tell you there is no alternative," said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka in a statement Friday. "But this week, Our Fiscal Security, Representative Jan Schakowsky, and the Citizens' Commission On Jobs, Deficits And America's Economic Future all presented plausible plans to bring the budget deficit under control - without jeopardizing our recovery, without asking the middle class to pick up the tab, and without deep cuts in the programs our seniors rely on."

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