- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pressure on the congressional debt-reduction supercommittee to “go big” is growing, as a bipartisan group of House members is urging the panel to find savings far beyond its $1.5 trillion goal.

In a joint letter, the group has challenged supercommittee co-chairmen Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican, to instead find $4 trillion in deficit reductions, saying the bigger amount “is necessary to stabilize our debt as a share of the economy and assure America’s fiscal well-being.”

The House members also pressed the debt panel to consider both spending cuts and tax increases, saying that “all options for mandatory and discretionary spending and revenues must be on the table.”

The letter, which isn’t expected to be released publicly until later this week, has been signed by members of both parties across the political spectrum, said a senior congressional aide familiar with the document.

The effort, lead by Rep. Michael K. Simpson, Idaho Republican, and Rep. Heath Shuler, North Carolina Democrat, echoes other bipartisan proposals that called for sweeping deficit cuts.

A White House-commissioned panel headed last year by former Sen. Alan Simpson, Wyoming Republican, and Erskine Bowles, one-time chief of staff to President Clinton, drafted a plan that would trim about $4 trillion from the debt by 2020. President Obama used the same dollar amount in his “grand bargain” deficit-reduction proposal this past summer.

Another 2010 debt-reduction report by Alice Rivlin, an economist and former Clinton adviser, and former Republican Sen. Pete Domenici went even further, calling for cuts that would lower by debt by almost $6 trillion by 2020.

The current 12-member, bipartisan deficit-reduction panel, born out of this past summer’s bitter debt-ceiling deal, is tasked to identify by Thanksgiving $1.5 trillion in savings and/or new tax revenue. Failure would trigger $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that would affect a wide range of domestic programs and the Pentagon.

The two big roadblocks facing the panel are how to tackle entitlement and tax reforms. Democrats have resisted significant cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other entitlement programs, while Republicans have been steadfast in their opposition to any tax increases.

Democrats on the supercommittee last week proposed a $3 trillion debt-reduction plan that would include about $1.3 trillion in tax increases, plus about the same amount in spending cuts, and billions more in non-tax revenue.

Supercommittee Republicans countered with a plan that would reduce the debt by between about $1.5 trillion and $2 trillion without raising taxes.

The federal debt was $14.9 trillion as of Friday. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, in a March analysis of the president’s 2012 budget, estimated debt would swell to $27.6 trillion by 2021.

Alan Simpson, Mr. Domenici, Mr. Bowles and Ms. Rivlin are scheduled to testify at the supercommittee’s next public hearing, on Tuesday.

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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