Deficit Plan Vote Falls Short Of Desired Support

Commission Co-Chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson i

Commission Co-Chairs Erskine Bowles (left) and  Alan Simpson arrive Friday at a public meeting of the panel. Among its many contentious provisions, the commission's plan would raise the Social Security retirement age and scale back tax deductions on health insurance and mortgage interest. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Commission Co-Chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson

Commission Co-Chairs Erskine Bowles (left) and  Alan Simpson arrive Friday at a public meeting of the panel. Among its many contentious provisions, the commission's plan would raise the Social Security retirement age and scale back tax deductions on health insurance and mortgage interest.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Obama's budget commission voted 11-7 on Friday to approve its report on cutting the deficit, but that wasn't a wide enough margin to enable prompt consideration by Congress.

Still, commission members said 11 votes for the blueprint were more than they had expected. They said it showed that Washington politicians could have an "adult conversation" about the painful choices required to avert a European-style debt crisis.

Senate conservatives Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) joined with close Obama allies Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Kent Conrad (D-ND) in support of the failed plan. Panel members said the commission's work had fundamentally changed the national debate on the deficit.

The plan received "aye" votes from five of six senators who served on the 18-member panel, chaired by former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican.

What Happens Now?

The proposal from the deficit commission needed support from 14 of the 18 commissioners to become an official recommendation to Congress. Now that the plan has fallen short, what happens?

Well, most likely, Congress will ignore it.

But that doesn't mean the proposal was for nothing. Co-chairman Erskine Bowles said the commission proved it's possible to have an "adult conversation" about the deficit. The 11 votes in support of the plan were more than expected, and that could create impetus for more negotiations and actual progress on the deficit. Plus, President Obama said he and his economic team will examine the proposal closely as he puts together his budget.

But five of six House lawmakers on the panel voted "nay" on the plan, which would slash $4 trillion from the budget over the coming decade through a combination of tax increases and painful spending cuts — including a hike in the Social Security retirement age and lower cost-of-living increases for the program.

"The Bowles-Simpson plan further erodes the middle class and threatens low-income Americans," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

Rep. John Spratt Jr. (D-SC) — who lost a re-election bid last month — was the only House member to endorse the plan, but quipped, "Thank God I'm not running again." That registered especially with Conrad, who faces a potentially difficult re-election bid in North Dakota.

"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,' " said former Service Employees Union International President Andy Stern, who opposed the plan but praised its goals. "And that is an enormous tectonic paradigm shift,'' he added.

Among its many contentious provisions, the plan would raise the Social Security retirement age and scale back popular tax deductions on health insurance and mortgage interest.

Bowles and Simpson have labored on the deficit issue for months, keeping all but the most partisan members involved in the commission's work. Gaining the support of Durbin, a key Obama ally, was a major development.

"Today, with my vote, I'm claiming a seat at the table," Durbin said, adding that he saw the measure as a starting point for next year's debate.

But all three House Republicans on the panel voted against the plan, as did liberal Democrats Schakowsky and Xavier Becerra of California. So did Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT).

Durbin raised eyebrows Wednesday when he endorsed gradually raising the full Social Security retirement age from 67 to 69 over the next 65 years, and he resisted heavy pressure from labor unions and others in backing the plan.

Besides increasing the Social Security retirement age, the plan calls for reducing future increases to benefits to help control federal spending. It would eliminate or scale back tax breaks — including the child tax credit, mortgage interest deduction and deduction claimed by employers who provide health insurance — in exchange for rate cuts on corporate and income taxes. It would raise the federal gasoline tax 15 cents a gallon to fund transportation programs.

The plan, which was unveiled Wednesday, elicited catcalls from advocates on the left — over cuts to Social Security and other programs — and conservatives who oppose its estimated $1 trillion or so in higher tax revenues over the coming decade.

Simpson warned those panelists who are elected members of Congress that they will face "slash and burn" tactics from the "zealots and their minions."

"But remember this — many of them were the same cynics who chuckled and broke out the champagne when we began our work," Simpson said. "And they ain't laughing now."

Baucus announced Thursday he couldn't support it. He said the plan "would cut pensions for military members, lower Social Security payments, raise the retirement age and limit Medicare benefits."

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.