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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Deficit-Reduction Plan|Sinks With Majority Vote

WASHINGTON (CN) - President Obama's bipartisan debt commission failed to secure the 14 votes needed on Friday to move a drastic deficit-reduction proposal through Congress, but commissioners say the 11 votes in support of the measure prove that it has a strong chance of succeeding.

Eleven of the 18 members of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform said they would vote to approve the plan, three short of the supermajority needed to force a vote on the proposal in the House and Senate.

"We got 60 percent of the commissioners to vote for something extremely controversial," Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., told reporters outside the commission meeting. "Sixty percent in the Senate would prevail. That's a good sign."

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said the proposal should not be shelved.

The vote "does not mean we will not have the ability to move forward aggressively in the consideration of this plan," Crapo said at the commission hearing.

Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson co-chaired the panel, which released its report on Wednesday.

The report states that the government is on an "unsustainable fiscal path" and lays out measures to cut the deficit in half, or by $828 billion, by 2015 and cut the national debt by $4 trillion by 2020.

It also calls for placing a cap on discretionary spending and ending earmarks, which cost the government $1.1 trillion per year.

Conrad said the "debt threat" was the country's greatest challenge after terrorism.

He praised the plan for making Social Security solvent for 75 years, providing additional benefits to seniors above age 82 and allowing those who perform hard physical labor to retire earlier.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who voted against the plan, said she supports reducing the debt but wants to achieve that goal without harming the middle class, which she says has been hit especially hard in the past decade.

"What we don't want in a deficit-reduction plan is to take another slap at the middle class," Schakowsky said at the commission meeting. "We talk about shared sacrifice, but there has not been shared prosperity."

Schakowsky said she especially disagreed with the plan's call to freeze non-combat military pay, saying military families "should not be the target of deficit-reduction."

Commissioners said they were confident that the issue would move forward despite the failure to obtain a supermajority vote.

"We have changed the issue from whether there should even be a fiscal plan for this country to what is the best fiscal plan for this country, and that is an enormous, tectonic paradigm shift," Commissioner Andy Stern said.

"The question is not 'if,' it is a question of when we are going to get this done," he added.

In a statement after the meeting, Obama said the report "underscores that to sustain growth in the medium and long term we need to face some difficult choices to curb runaway debt. It will require cutting the spending we don't need in order to invest in what's necessary to grow our economy and our middle-class."

Obama said he and his economic team are studying the commission's proposals as they make decisions about next year's budget. Obama's budget director, Jack Lew, invited the commission to meet with him and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geitner to discuss specific deficit-reduction proposals.

"Overall, my goal is to build on the steps we've already taken to reduce our deficit," Obama said, "like slowing the growth of health care costs, proposing a three-year freeze in non-security discretionary spending and a two-year pay freeze for federal civilian workers, and restoring the rule that we pay for all of our priorities."

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