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House could vote this week on budget plan modeled on Simpson-Bowles ideas

The House could vote for the first time this week on a bipartisan deficit-cutting plan, modeled on the suggestions of a presidential commission chaired by former senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and former White House official Erskine Bowles, that calls for both spending cuts and new tax revenue.

The Simpson-Bowles report was widely lauded as the potential key to a breakthrough on shrinking the nation’s debt. But it was never endorsed by a supermajority of the commission’s members, never embraced by President Obama and did not face a vote in either chamber of Congress.

But now a bipartisan group of House members has submitted a budget plan built on the Simpson-Bowles ideas, a spending plan that would slash $4 trillion from deficits over the next 10 years.

Presented as an alternative to a GOP budget blueprint authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that would curb red ink through spending cuts alone, it is expected to lose to Ryan’s plan.

But any significant support for a proposal calling for $1.2 trillion in new revenues, particularly from tax-increase-adverse Republicans, could signal new hope for efforts in the coming year to get the kind of grand deficit-reduction bargain that eluded Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) in talks over raising the debt ceiling during the summer.

A bipartisan group of senators has been continuing to quietly work on deficit reduction proposals, hopeful that they could gain new traction after the November election. Meanwhile, the impending expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and massive automatic spending cuts set to take effect Jan. 1 could provide powerful motivations to negotiate.

The House members said they hope their efforts could demonstrate that there is a moderate middle willing to push ahead with such a proposal.

“We’re going to wind up here anyway, so we think we might as well start talking,” said Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio), who along with Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) is serving as the budget proposal’s lead sponsor.

Bowles said Tuesday that he and Simpson have endorsed the House effort and believe it represents the principles included in their own proposal. “We want to do anything that we can to help them move this process forward,” Bowles told reporters.

The bipartisan plan, whose sponsors include three other Republicans and four additional Democrats, sketches broad outlines for reducing deficits to 1.4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product during the next 10 years.

It calls for reducing spending by about $2 trillion beyond the nearly $1 trillion in cuts agreed to by both parties in the summer deal that raised the nation’s debt ceiling. And it proposes major changes to entitlement programs, including applying a new formula for calculating inflation in Social Security payments that many liberals decry for reducing benefits to retirees.

The budget also proposes a rewrite of the tax code that would eliminate tax loopholes and subsidies.

“It’s a challenge for both parties,” Cooper said. “But we know the pain is shared equally and fairly. We know it’s a balanced solution. We know it’s a bipartisan solution. And that’s a good place to start.”

A strong vote on the House floor Thursday could build momentum for future bipartisan deficit discussions. But there is risk in pushing for the vote now too, particularly if House members view the measure as a competitor to the partisan proposals advanced by Ryan and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the leading Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

“You’re trying to put a bipartisan balanced solution to the problem in the middle of the most partisan debate that will occur in Congress,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who has endorsed including new tax money in a debt deal.

But LaTourette said he believes he and Cooper can round up enough votes for the idea to avoid deflating the bipartisan effort.

Staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.

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