- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2010

Six members of President Obama’s deficit commission are expected to vote on Friday against its final report, meaning the panel will not be able to submit any recommendations to Congress for action.

Late Thursday, Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, announced his opposition, joining one House Democrat, three House Republicans and one of Mr. Obama’s appointees, who also are expected to vote against it, leaving the 18-member panel short of the 14 votes Mr. Obama said would be needed to adopt a final report. Also late Thursday, Andrew Stern, the former president of the Service Employees International Union, announced his opposition.

Still, a majority is expected to back the blueprint laid out by the panels co-chairmen, former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, to gain control of the country’s finances by imposing unpopular spending cuts and doing away with popular tax breaks.

“We’re at a day of reckoning,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican and commission member, earlier Thursday as he announced his support, along with Sen. Michael D. Crapo, Idaho Republican. “The time for action is now. The threat is real. It’s urgent. We cannot wait for another election. We cannot wait until we get more of what we want.”

As of late Thursday, five of Mr. Obama’s six appointees to the commission said they’ll back the final recommendations, as have five senators.

Four House lawmakers are expected to oppose the plan, as well as Mr. Baucus. And ABC reported Thursday night that Mr. Obama’s sixth appointee, Mr. Stern, the former SEIU chief, was expected to oppose the plan.

That leaves two House Democrats as the undecided members, and leaves the commission short of the needed supermajority.

Mr. Baucus‘ defection was the key blow. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said he couldn’t accept the proposal’s cuts in Social Security and health care benefits and a recommendation to raise gasoline taxes.

Higher gas taxes would “paint a big red target on rural America,” Mr. Baucus said in a statement.

When Mr. Obama formed the commission by executive order in February, he required that 14 of the 18 members support any final recommendations, in order to ensure bipartisanship.

In the end, bipartisan opposition will doom it - though a bipartisan consensus is growing around the co-chairmen’s tax-reform proposal to simplify and broaden the tax base by eliminating or scaling back roughly $1.1 trillion in popular tax breaks to help offset the cost of lower individual and corporate tax rates.

“The reforms presented in this package are some of the most dramatic and extensive reforms I have seen in my time,” Mr. Crapo told reporters. “It will help us move to a more fair, less complex, less costly and more competitive tax code that will generate a stronger, more robust and dynamic economy.”

What is clear is that Mr. Coburn and Mr. Crapo are now in the cross hairs of anti-tax groups.

Ryan Ellis, tax-policy director for Americans for Tax Reform, criticized the two Republican lawmakers for violating the group’s anti-tax pledge.

“This plan very consciously shifts the emphasis from cutting spending [which is what the election was about] to deficit reduction, which in Washington means ‘tax hike,’ ” Mr. Ellis said.

The blueprint challenges Congress 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. It would 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.

Under the plan, the corporate tax rate drops to 26 percent from 35 percent, and individual tax rates and six individual tax rates of today are replaced with three tax brackets: 8 percent up to $70,000 of annual income; 14 percent up to $210,000 of annual income; and 23 percent for everyone else.

But it hasn’t been enough to sway the three House Republicans on the commission - Reps. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, Dave Camp of Michigan, and Jeb Hensarling of Texas. They signaled their intention to vote against it, saying they couldn’t accept the plan’s proposed tax increases and said the plan did not address the problem of rising health care costs and what they deemed to be the problems created by Mr. Obama’s new health care overhaul law.

“The reason I can’t vote for the thing is because not only did it not address the elephant in the room - health care - it made it fatter,” Mr. Ryan told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “If you are going to fix this fiscal crisis, you have to take on health care.”

The stances exposed a philosophical rift over how to rein in the country’s trillion-dollar deficits and national debt, with the three House Republicans and three Senate Republicans on the commission taking opposite sides. On Wednesday, retiring Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, endorsed the plan.

Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, both Democrats, had vowed to bring it up for a vote before the end of the lame-duck session if it got the required support.

But it is unclear whether lawmakers would have had enough time to consider the plan before the end of the year, and Rep. John A. Boehner, the Ohio Republican in line to be the next speaker of the House, has refused to say whether he would address the plan in the next Congress.

Mr. Obama established the commission in February and named Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson as co-chairmen. He tasked the panel with drawing up a plan to balance the budget, excluding interest, in 2015 and to put the country on a more sustainable fiscal path over the long run.

On Wednesday, the chairmen aired their final recommendations, calling for deep domestic, military and Medicare cuts in an attempt to cut $4 trillion from the debt by 2020 and bring some balance back to the economy.

As it stands, federal spending is nearly 24 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, the highest it has been since World War II, and federal taxes are 15 percent of GDP, the lowest since 1950.

Under the co-chairmen’s plan, federal spending would be shaved down to 21.6 percent of GDP and federal taxes would jump to 19.3 percent by 2015. By 2035, they would be each level out at 21 percent.