Panel Postpones Vote On U.S. Debt-Cutting Plan

Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson co-chair the debt panel. i i

hide captionErskine Bowles (left) and Alan Simpson head the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

David Gilkey/NPR
Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson co-chair the debt panel.

Erskine Bowles (left) and Alan Simpson head the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

David Gilkey/NPR

A long-awaited vote on how to cut the national debt will have to wait a little longer.

The two men heading President Obama's debt commission said Tuesday that a vote on the final recommendations has been delayed until Friday. But Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson said the extra time would not be used to make major, last-minute concessions.

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Debt is "a cancer, destroying our nation from within," Bowles said. The cure will require "tough, difficult choices" rather than elaborate compromises, he said.

Still, the change in plans suggests the co-chairs are trying to win over more commission members.

One member, economist Alice Rivlin, told NPR she believes taking more time to build support is a good idea. "I'm quite optimistic," she said.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform originally planned to hold an open meeting Tuesday and a vote on Wednesday. Instead, the members continued their closed-door discussions Tuesday, and pushed back the vote until Friday.

The final plan may be released later Tuesday, Bowles said. "We're putting the final touches on it now," he said.

Earlier this month, the co-chairs issued a draft report calling for cuts in domestic and military spending, reduction for some future Social Security recipients, and an overhaul of the tax code.

The commission needs 14 of the 18 members to approve the debt-reduction proposals. It can make formal recommendations to Congress only with a supermajority's approval.

But Bowles said he and Simpson will not agree to major compromises because reducing the $13.8 trillion debt necessarily means holding firm to politically difficult positions. "I don't know if we’re going to get two votes or five votes or 10 votes or 14 votes," Bowles said.

Obama created the commission last February to draw up plans for slashing both the annual budget deficit and the long-term national debt. To lead the commission, he appointed Bowles, who was White House chief of staff for President Clinton, and Simpson, the former Republican senator from Wyoming.

Earlier this month, the two men previewed many of the recommendations in a co-chairs' report. Their work was attacked by the left and the right — either for having too many spending cuts or eliminating too many tax breaks.

The panel includes 12 current U.S. lawmakers, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, and six presidential appointees.

Regardless of the final vote, the commission's work is likely to help shape the debate in 2011 as the new Congress tackles debt reduction.

By setting up a commission, both the White House and Congress hoped not only to create an overall framework for reshaping government spending but also give themselves political cover for difficult choices.

NPR's John Ydstie contributed to this report.

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