Obama Summons Lawmakers To The White House
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
After weeks of seemingly intractable gridlock over how to curb the federal deficit and raise the nation's debt ceiling, a new bipartisan plan appears to be Washington's latest best hope for compromise. It would, we're told, raise revenue, cut spending and reform the tax code.
President Obama held separate meetings today at the White House with Republican and Democratic leaders. They discussed, among other things, whether the new Gang of Six proposal could help solve the impasse.
Joining us now to discuss the plan and how it's playing out is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
MARA LIASSON: Hello, Michele.
NORRIS: Folks have now had a little bit of time to look at some of the details of this plan. What's the reaction you're hearing today?
LIASSON: Well, most of them say they want more details, but the right and the left of each party have decided they don't like this at all. AFSCME, the big public sector union, and AARP - those are two pretty important Democratic-leaning constituents - they're against it.
But plenty of members of Congress are cautiously positive. The president has embraced it. He likes it because it's balanced. It has tax hikes and cuts in entitlements and domestic spending.
Speaker Boehner said it had a lot of similarities to the grand bargain he was discussing with the president. And Eric Cantor, the majority leader in the House who helped scuttle the speaker's attempt at a grand bargain with the president, even said it had some constructive ideas, but he doesn't like the tax revenue part, and there's no surprise there.
NORRIS: So a lot of cautious language there.
Mara, tell us about the new revenue in the proposal, in other words, taxes, which had been the biggest stumbling block in the negotiations up to this point.
LIASSON: Well, and they still are, either one trillion or $1.7 trillion of new revenue in the first 10 years. This is a huge sticking point for Republicans, and it will continue to be.
What the plan offers them in return is lower tax rates across the board for corporations and individuals. The top individual rate under the Gang of Six plan would be somewhere between 23 and 29 percent. And you'd get that by getting rid of or diminishing tax breaks.
NORRIS: Now, on the other side, with Democrats, cuts to entitlements were the big problem, a big stumbling block. What is the Gang of Six proposal do to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, other federal benefits?
LIASSON: Well, Social Security would be on a separate track. Changes in Social Security would not be to reduce the deficit but to extend the solvency of Social Security itself for 75 years.
But in the short term, the Gang of Six plan would, after five years, phase in a change in the formula to calculate the cost of living increases for Social Security and all other government programs.
On Medicare, the Gang of Six doesn't say what specific changes they want, except they do set a target. Congress would have to keep the costs of Medicare to the rate of growth of GDP plus one percentage point per beneficiary. Now, entitlements will be a huge sticking point for Democrats.
Today's Wall Street Journal poll shows that a majority of Americans, 52 percent, say Democrats should not agree to a deal that cuts or changes Medicare or Social Security. And part of the purpose of the president's meeting today with Democratic leaders was to convince them that the political and economic benefits of a big deal that includes Medicare cuts are worth the price of blunting, not giving up entirely, but muting their best line of attack against the Republicans.
NORRIS: So, Mara, if they crunch the numbers and it makes enough sense to bring people to the table, what will it take to get this thing done, to get the plan enacted into law?
LIASSON: Well, first of all, you have to get over the opposition of the two Senate leaders because neither Mitch McConnell nor Harry Reid are enthusiastic about this. This really would need the president and a bipartisan group of senators doing an end run around the leadership.
And then, the immediate task would be to figure out how much support this really has. The Gang of Six wants 60 senators to sign a letter supporting their outline, but they are not close to that goal. We've heard they've only got about 30 signatures.
NORRIS: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
Mara, thanks so much.
LIASSON: Thank you.
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