- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 19, 2011

President Obama on Tuesday seized on a new debt-reduction plan by a bipartisan group of senators that calls for a mix of entitlement reforms and tax revenues, as the clock winds down to an early August deadline to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

The president’s endorsement of the “Gang of Six” plan came hours before the Republican-led House voted 234-190 to pass a mostly symbolic debt-reduction measure that included a balanced-budget constitutional amendment.

Mr. Obama, addressing reporters in the White House briefing room, reiterated his threat to veto the House Republican proposal to “cut, cap and balance” the nation’s budget and raise the $14.29 trillion debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion.

The president said that while he understood the need for the Republican caucus to vote on their measure Tuesday evening, he stressed that Washington now finds itself in the “eleventh hour” and needs to compromise — and quick.

“We have a Democratic president and administration that is prepared to sign a tough package that includes both spending cuts, modifications to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare … and would include a revenue component,” Mr. Obama said. “We now have a bipartisan group of senators who agree with that balanced approach. And we’ve got the American people who agree with that balanced approach.”

With the House measure facing almost no chance of survival outside the chamber, House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said he was exploring other alternatives to avoid a default on the nation’s sovereign debt.

“I do think it’s responsible for us to look at what Plan B would look like,” Mr. Boehner said a few hours before the opening of debate on the legislation backed by conservative lawmakers.

The Gang of Six blueprint is similar in scope to Mr. Obama’s push for a “grand bargain” debt deal that would cut spending by more than $4 trillion over 10 years. To accomplish this, the plan would raise taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals by $1 trillion.

Moderate Democrats generally say they like what they see in the bipartisan Senate proposal.

“This is a really positive development after several weeks of bad news and partisan bickering, where it looked like we wouldn’t be able to do more than kick the can down the road,” said Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat. “Even though I don’t agree with everything in this plan, I say, ‘Count me in.’ “

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said while there are some portions of the proposal that are unclear and need more detail, “this bipartisan plan does seem to include some constructive ideas to deal with our debt.”

“At first glance, it seems as though the Gang of Six proposal includes some of the reforms that we have already discussed with the president and vice president,” Mr. Cantor said.

But the Senate plan faces significant criticism from opposing ends of the political spectrum.

“This terrible plan could cut Medicare and Medicaid to unsustainably low levels and put seniors’ well-being at risk,” said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, Arizona Democrat and co-chairman of the liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The plan’s provision to raise taxes also may be too much for many anti-tax Republicans to accept.

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