A bipartisan group of 36 senators urged the joint committee on deficit reduction Thursday to exceed its legal mandate and cut the deficit by as much as $4 trillion by embracing tax reform and entitlement cuts.
The group was led by Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Mark Warner (Va.), members of the Gang of Six, a group of senators who worked for months on deficit reduction ideas and unveiled a similar proposal in the days just before Congress accepted the debt deal with much more modest goals early in August.
The group’s message to the panel, dubbed the “supercommittee,” said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D): “Be brave, be bold, go big.”
The committee has been charged with finding at least $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade, on top of $1 trillion in cuts that were agreed to in the debt deal that created the panel.
But the senators said the group should find a much more comprehensive deficit reduction solution — and said they were ready to support the panel if it does.
The group insisted that despite Washington’s bitter tone, dramatic deficit reduction is possible if the parties work together.
“What’s wrong with this picture?” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), gesturing to the crowd of Democrats and Republicans crowding the stage of the news conference. “If you take a look at this picture of the gathered senators, it’s exactly the opposite of what the American people think is going on on Capitol Hill. What we’re trying to tell you is there is a real honest conversation taking place between Democrats and Republicans on tackling the biggest financial challenge this country has ever faced.”
The group supported “pro-growth tax reform,” which would eliminate tax loopholes and preferences and lower tax rates, which they said would result in a stronger economy and higher revenues for government.
But they did not lend support for changes that would result in tax increases, which many Democrats believe must be part of a balanced approach to deficit reduction solution.
They also acknowledged that the committee is unlikely to have time to tackle broad tax reform before it must complete its work Nov. 23. Conrad suggested that the group include in its recommendations a legislative mandate that Congress’ tax committees tackle the reform and do so by early next year.
Emerging from their first closed-door session Thursday, a breakfast meeting that lasted more than an hour, members of the supercommittee said they are eager to keep all options open. They said the mood among members had been good and the meeting productive.
“There is a moment in history that can be seized, a moment in history that must be seized,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), the group’s chairman. “The American people are watching. They wish to see their government work.”
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