Senators Propose Commission To Explore Deficit

There are many matters on which they likely disagree — but one issue that Sens. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) see eye to eye on is the mounting threat of the nation's ballooning deficit.

"We had 9/11. We had a series of tax cuts. We had wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Deficits and debt exploded," Conrad tells NPR's Steve Inskeep.

Now, both senators say that if significant change is not made, financial disaster is just beyond the horizon.

"We're literally going to pass on to our children a country they can't afford," Gregg says. "Their standard of living is going to go down dramatically, the tax burden will go up dramatically, the benefits for senior citizens who are retired will be adjusted dramatically if we allow ourselves to go over this cliff."

What they are proposing is an 18-member task force made up of 16 members of Congress — eight Democrats and eight Republicans, and two representatives from the administration, including the secretary of the Treasury. The committee would weigh proposals to lower the national deficit, and if 14 of the 18 members agreed on a proposal, it would go to the House and Senate for a vote. The proposal would then need to pass both chambers by a supermajority: 60 votes in the Senate and by 60 percent of the House. The president would also retain his right to veto.

"If we look back in history, we've seen every time we've faced a fiscal crisis it took this type of special procedure to deal with it," says Conrad.

Requiring a supermajority would give the proposal legitimacy, Gregg says, adding that no one would accept a resolution to the deficit issue unless it was perceived as absolutely fair and bipartisan.

"When you run into these types of very complex and difficult questions," he says, "doing it this way appears to me to be the only way you're going to accomplish it — set up a procedure that leads to a policy, which leads to action, and that's our goal."

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