Senate Democrats draft debt-reduction plan
By Lori Montgomery,
Senate Democrats have drafted a sweeping debt-reduction plan that would slice $4 trillion from projected borrowing over the next decade without touching the expensive health and retirement programs targeted by President Obama.
Instead, Senate Democrats are proposing to stabilize borrowing through sharp cuts at the Pentagon and other government agencies, as well as $2 trillion in new taxes, primarily on families earning more than $1 million year, according to a copy of the plan obtained by The Washington Post.
With debt-reduction talks under way between Obama and congressional leaders, Senate Democrats are unlikely to adopt the blueprint. However, it has gained broad support among those eager to chart a path to solving the nation’s budget problems without making politically painful cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
“The very strong feeling was we needed to get this into the conversation, because it provides an alternative view,” said a Senate Democrat familiar with the blueprint, who spoke on condition of anonymity because it has not been publicly released. “What’s striking is how modest the changes need to be to get us back on track.”
On Friday, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) visited the White House to brief Obama and Vice President Biden on the blueprint, which differs significantly from the framework under discussion with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and other leaders.
“I explained to the President and Vice President how the Senate Budget Committee Democrats developed a plan that achieves $4 trillion in deficit reduction in a balanced and fair way,” Conrad said in a statement. “It is my hope the plan will help influence the bipartisan negotiations and help them reach a comprehensive and balanced deficit reduction agreement.”
Republicans dismissed the Democratic blueprint, saying higher taxes would be devastating to an economy already weighed down by a 9.2 percent unemployment rate. In their spending plan, House Republicans proposed to save $4 trillion entirely through spending cuts; they would also eliminate Medicare as an open-ended entitlement after 2021.
“If they’re calling for $2 trillion in tax hikes in the middle of a jobs crisis, it’s little wonder that it’s been 800 days since Senate Democrats passed a budget,” said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart.
Since early this year, Senate Democrats have struggled to draft a spending plan. Moderates refused to endorse any blueprint that included big annual budget deficits or big tax hikes. Liberals, meanwhile, opposed sharp cuts to social programs. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the senior Budget Committee Republican, has relentlessly hammered Democrats for their failure to adopt a budget.
Although the new document is unlikely to be officially adopted, it was embraced by a majority of Senate Democrats when Conrad presented it at a closed-door luncheon earlier this week, aides said.
Under the blueprint, the top income tax rate would rise to 39.6 percent for individuals earning more than $500,000 a year and families earning more than $1 million. That group, which constitutes the nation’s richest 1 percent of households, would also pay a 20 percent rate on capital gains and dividends, rather than the 15 percent rate now in effect.
In addition to raising rates for the very wealthiest families, the blueprint proposes to obtain fresh revenue by targeting offshore tax havens and corporate shelters. It would also scale back the array of tax breaks and deductions known as tax expenditures, perhaps by focusing on the wealthiest households, which claim an average of $205,000 in tax breaks each year on average income of $1.1 million.
The blueprint would take nearly $900 billion from the Pentagon over the next decade — the same amount recommended by Obama’s fiscal commission. It would slice more than $350 billion from domestic programs. And it would produce interest savings of nearly $600 billion attributable to reduced borrowing.
Only about $80 billion would be cut from Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health programs, and nothing from Social Security. But even without touching those programs, the plan would stabilize borrowing by 2014 and begin pushing the national debt down as a share of the economy.