Three senators on deficit commission get behind proposals

By Brady Dennis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 3, 2010

A bipartisan commission's controversial plan to rein in runaway federal deficits by allowing taxes to rise sharply in coming years was endorsed Thursday by three prominent senators serving on the presidentially appointed panel.

The surprising support from Republicans Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mike Crapo of Idaho means all three GOP senators on President Obama's bipartisan deficit commission - the other is Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who is retiring - have backed the group's proposals. Democrat Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), also a panel member, wrote in an op-ed article Thursday night that he, too, would support the plan.

Coburn and Crapo said that despite the heartburn they share over elements of the package, they would sign on to it in hopes of spurring a serious effort to remedy the country's fiscal woes.

"Our debt crisis is a threat not just to our way of life but to our national survival," Crapo told reporters Thursday in an appearance alongside Coburn. "And the threat that we face is so real and so close that we do not have further time for gridlock or inaction. It's necessary that we take strong, aggressive action now."

In his Chicago Tribune op-ed, Durbin, who serves as assistant Senate majority leader, wrote: "This plan is not perfect, and it is certainly not the plan I would have written. . . . If we don't act now - if we pass this issue on to another Congress, another generation - the tough choices we face now only get tougher."

The support from the trio of GOP senators and Durbin brings to 10 the number of commissioners who have voiced support for the package, on which an official vote comes Friday. The group, chaired by former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming, needs 14 votes to issue official recommendations. Crossing that threshold, however, remains unlikely.

House Republicans Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Dave Camp of Michigan indicated Thursday that they would vote against the package, saying the recommendations fail to address rising health-care costs and rely heavily on tax increases rather than restraints on spending.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) also has said he is inclined to vote against the package. In addition, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), another member of the panel, said Thursday he would vote against the plan because proposals such as cuts in pensions for military members and higher gas taxes "hit rural America the hardest."

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.

Simpson and Bowles included provisions designed to garner support from individual panel members, including $50 billion in immediate spending cuts suggested by Coburn and support for an immediate payroll tax holiday, requested by Durbin, to spur job creation.

At the same time, the co-chairmen resisted changes that would water down the far-reaching package. Simpson said this week that even if the package doesn't get the 14 votes necessary to prompt congressional consideration, the plan would succeed in changing the overall debate.

"Whether we get two votes or 18, this baby ain't goin' away," he said. "Oh, sure, it may be buried in an unmarked grave soon, but when the votes for the budget and to extend the debt limit and the debate on that comes up in the spring, this cadaver will rise from the crypt."

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