- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The chairmen of President Obama’s deficit-reduction commission said members are halfway to securing the support they need to forward their recommendations of unpopular spending cuts and tax increases to Congress, where Democratic leaders have vowed to hold a vote before the end of the lame-duck session.

Their efforts got a boost Wednesday after the top two lawmakerson the commission - Sens. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, and Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican - endorsed the fiscal road map, saying that it will put the country on a path toward reducing trillion-dollar deficits, reining in the $13.860 trillion national debt and putting Social Security on solid financial footing for the next 75 years.

“We’ve reached a point where it is time to govern - it’s that simple,” Mr. Gregg said. “We either as a nation govern, or we risk losing our greatness, and this is a template for beginning that governance.”

But entrenched advocacy groups pounced on the report. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, labeled it a “trillion-dollar tax hike,” and Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO labor federation, said it “once again tells working Americans to drop dead.”

Mr. Obama convened the commission earlier this year and named Erskine Bowles, a former chief of staff to President Clinton, and former Sen. Alan Simpson, Wyoming Republican, as co-chairmen. He charged the panel with proposing ways to close the long-term budget gap that both administration and congressional analysts say will overwhelm the country’s finances as the population ages.

In releasing the report, Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson challenged the commission to push aside partisan differences and reduce military and domestic spending, to cut Medicare spending and pare down or eliminate popular tax breaks - such as the earned-income tax credit and the mortgage-interest deduction.

“These are tough times, requiring tough decisions and indeed tough votes,” Mr. Simpson said.

The commission, made up of six congressional Democrats, six congressional Republicans and six members named by Mr. Obama, will hold a final vote Friday. Under Mr. Obama’s February executive order establishing the commission, 14 of the 18 members must support the plan in order to adopt it and submit it to the White House and Congress.

If a report is adopted, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, have promised to hold a vote on the plan before the end of the month.

Five of Mr. Obama’s appointees are backing the plan, as are two senators - one from each party. But other lawmakers said the proposal from Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson fails.

“I do not believe that this sufficiently fixes the health care problem, and guess what? Our debt problem is the health care problem,” said Rep. Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican and incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat, said she could not support the plan because she thinks provisions to gradually raise the age of enrollment in Social Security, to reduce domestic spending and to cut Medicare benefits will hurt the middle class, the working poor and the elderly.

“To say that we are going to reduce our deficit and debt by asking Medicare beneficiaries to pay more for their health care I think is absolutely unconscionable,” she said.

However, groups critical of the nations economic future praised the plan and called on the panel to give it their full support.

“This is a credible, responsible and comprehensive plan for addressing the nation’s growing debt burden, which will reach unsustainable levels if no action is taken,” said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition. “It cuts through partisan rhetoric and confronts the hard trade-offs that must be made between spending, taxes and debt.”

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