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Deficit plan wins 11 of 18 votes; more than expected, but not enough to force action

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Dec. 2 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Senator Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, talks about the outlook for an official endorsement of a debt-reduction proposal presented yesterday by the National Commission for Fiscal Responsibility. The plan requires approval of 14 of the panel's 18 members in order to move to Congress for consideration. Conrad talks with Peter Cook on "In the Loop With Betty Liu." (Source: Bloomberg)

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By Brady Dennis and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 3, 2010; 8:10 PM

Eleven of the 18 members of President Obama's fiscal commission voted Friday to embrace a bipartisan commission's controversial plan to slash deficits by nearly $4 trillion over the next decade - too few votes to command quick action in Congress, but far more than even the panel's most ardent supporters had predicted just a few weeks ago.

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Among those voting yes were all three of the Senate Republicans appointed to the panel, including Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), a rock-ribbed conservative who endorsed the package despite a sharp increase in federal tax collections.

Two Senate Democrats on the panel also voted yes, including assistant Senate Majority Leader Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), an influential liberal who sought to bridge a major partisan divide by explicitly endorsing a gradual increase in the retirement age from 67 to 69.

The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), also voted yes, and Durbin predicted that Conrad would use the commission's report as a basis for constructing the party's next fiscal blueprint early in 2011.

Incoming House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has pledged to do the same, even though he and the two other House Republicans on the panel voted against the package. Their opposition was based primarily on the commission's implicit embrace of Obama's health-care overhaul.

The commission's final plan recommends making sharp cuts to military spending and phasing in a higher retirement age. The package would raise taxes by nearly $1 trillion by 2020, primarily through moves that would eliminate or reduce long-standing credits, such as the home mortgage interest deduction.

Meanwhile, the top income tax rate for both individuals and corporations would be dramatically lowered, from 35 percent to 29 percent or less. The report also recommends a legislative trigger that would raise taxes automatically unless a comprehensive overhaul is approved by 2013.

The final package would balance the budget by 2035 and bring down the nation's debt to a manageable 41 percent of gross domestic product over the next 25 years.

Two of the three House Democrats on the panel, both liberals, voted against the package; outgoing House Budget Committee chairman John Spratt (S.C.), who lost his recent bid for reelection, voted yes. Former labor leader Andy Stern also voted no, the only one of Obama's six appointees to reject the proposal.

Durbin hailed the vote as "a breakthrough" that sends a strong signal that "people on the left have got to join with people on the right to find a solution" to the soaring national debt.

And Conrad, one of the chief architects of the commission concept, offered effusive praise and thanks to the people with whom he has been locked in difficult talks for much of the past 10 months.

"I never thought there was much prospect of getting 14 votes. But we're gonna get 11," Conrad said before the vote. "I believe we've crossed an important hurdle here, and laid out a plan that will be resurrected. Because it must be."


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