The leaders of President Obama's independent deficit commission said Tuesday they'll delay a vote on their recommendations until the end of the week in order to give members a chance to digest their revamped plan.
But the panel's co-chairmen, Clinton White House aide Erskine Bowles and former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson, said they still are not sure they have the votes on the 18-member commission to approve a painful debt- and deficit-cutting plan to submit to Congress for action.
Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson have tweaked the plan they floated last month, but said they will still ask the panel to endorse deep cuts to entitlement programs and military spending, as well as scale back or end a string of popular tax breaks.
"We are not pleading with anyone for votes; we are not watering down this exercise," said Mr. Bowles. "It is not what the American people want."
In order to forward a report to Congress, 14 of the commission's 18 members must agree on the package of recommendations.
A draft of the new plan included mostly minor adjustments to the original blueprint, according to the Associated Press, restoring a few domestic spending cuts and softening the call for caps on medical malpractice awards as a way to cut health costs.
The two leaders said that regardless of the outcome of this week's action, they will have set the table for Congress and the general public to have an "adult conversation" about the nation's fiscal health, having offered what they call a "real" plan that would cut nearly $4 trillion off the deficit over the coming decade.
After a series of one-on-one meetings with commission members, the chairmen said they will present their final proposal Wednesday morning. But they also announced that they had decided to push back the final vote until Friday so the panel can have time to study their recommendations.
While the chairmen shied away from details, they told reporters Tuesday that the final recommendations would be similar to the draft plan they offered last month. They would include unpopular cuts to entitlement programs, reductions in military spending and limiting tax exemptions in order to simplify the tax system and lower individual tax rates. Mr. Simpson and Mr. Bowles also suggested that they would stick to a plan to raise the retirement age gradually for Social Security beneficiaries.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, have pledged to hold a vote during the lame-duck session if the commission produces a plan that wins the 14-member supermajority.
But Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan think tank, said that will be a high hurdle to clear and that it is more important to view the recommendation as a base line for developing a serious approach to the nation's trillion-dollar deficits and soaring national debt. She said the panel also serves a purpose by preparing voters for painful sacrifices.
"I never thought the objective of coming up with 14 [votes] and then putting it to an up-or-down vote in December made a lot of sense because what this really has to be an official beginning of a national discussion to move these big policy changes forward," she said. "It is not something that should get crammed through in a matter of days or weeks."
David Walker, former U.S. comptroller general and now head of the Comeback America Initiative, applauded the decision to delay the vote and encouraged the newly elected congressional leadership to "make an immediate and public commitment that they will do everything within their power to ensure that any recommendations that achieve a supermajority level of support will receive a vote" in the next Congress, with the GOP-led House going first.
The chairmen made the remarks after a news conference on Monday in which Mr. Obama announced a two-year pay freeze for civilian federal workers, a gesture that many read as an appeal to Republicans on the deficit issue. Mr. Obama asked lawmakers to take the commission's recommendations seriously.
While the pay freeze would save about $5 billion over the two years, it is a drop in the bucket compared with the deficits lawmakers have run up in recent years, and could be erased if Congress extends George W. Bush-era tax cuts set to expire Jan. 1.
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