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It was a bold and controversial plan to slash deficits and curb the nation's ballooning debt, but it failed today to win enough votes to automatically send it to Congress. The plan, developed by a bipartisan presidential commission, did get backing from a majority of its members.
As NPR's John Ydstie reports, the biggest surprise was the support it got from both conservative and progressive senators.
JOHN YDSTIE: The 18-member presidential commission, co-chaired by former Senator Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, a former chief of staff in the Clinton White House, included 12 members of Congress - six from each party.
One of the last to reveal his vote was Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, a member of the Democratic leadership. Durbin had been cool to the plan at the commission's meeting on Wednesday, arguing it required too much sacrifice from the needy and vulnerable.
But late yesterday, he announced his support. And the reaction was swift, he told his commission colleagues at their final meeting today.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): I've received a few phone calls in the last 24 hours.
(Soundbite of laughter)
YDSTIE: The calls were from friends and supporters asking why a progressive like Durbin would vote for this deficit commission report that cuts spending overall, including in Medicare, and raises the Social Security retirement age.
Sen. DURBIN: Well, here's why. I believe that politicians on the left and the right, Democrats and Republicans, have to acknowledge the deficit crisis our nation faces. When we borrow 40 cents out of every dollar we spend, whether it's in the Pentagon or for food stamps, that's unsustainable.
YDSTIE: Somewhat surprisingly, the commission's plan also gained support from two of the most conservative members of the Senate, Republicans Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mike Crapo of Idaho. That support came despite the fact that the plan would increase overall tax revenue substantially over the next decade.
Coburn and Crapo justified their support in a joint statement yesterday, saying that the debt crisis is a, quote, "threat to our national survival."
At today's meeting, Crapo urged the president and other members of Congress not to ignore the commission's work.
Senator MIKE CRAPO (Republican, Idaho): I've seen too many proposals, good proposals, simply be shelved. And we've shown that we can get the supermajority necessary to pass this kind of legislation.
YDSTIE: It wasn't the supermajority of 14 votes needed to trigger automatic congressional consideration of the proposal, but it was 11 yes votes out of 18. That's 60 percent - the same number needed to pass the Senate.
But while five of six senators supported the proposal, five of six House members opposed it. Among them was Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky, who nevertheless acknowledged the commission's impact.
Representative JAN SCHAKOWSKY (Democrat, Illinois): The main contribution of this commission is to say that there must be a plan for reducing the deficit and the long-term debt.
YDSTIE: But Schakowsky said the commission proposal required too much sacrifice from the needy and the middle class and not enough from the wealthy. She developed her own plan, which she says cuts the deficits in a more equitable way.
Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, who will be the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, opposed the commission plan, too, arguing it didn't do enough to cut health care costs, but he said he hopes to see 85 percent of the commission's proposals included in future legislation.
John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington.
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