Deficit reduction commission has first meeting

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Monday said he was looking forward to Tuesday's first meeting of the president's commission on reducing the deficit but added it will be difficult to get 14 of the 18 members to agree to a deficit reduction package to send to Congress.

"I am going to make every effort I can make to help produce agreement, but I also recognize reality," Conrad said.

The requirement that 14 of 18 members must agree to the package was included in the executive order issued by President Obama in February that created the panel.

At issue is whether Democrats will be able to win over Republicans, who are skeptical of the panel and see it as a way for Democrats to raise taxes.

"Americans are right to be concerned that this commission is merely a front to provide Democrats with the political cover they need to impose massive tax hikes," House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Monday in a statement. "Americans are asking Washington to do its fair share and live within its means, not raise taxes and kick the can down the road."

Before Tuesday's meeting, the 18 members of the group -- which includes six Democratic and six Republican members of Congress -- met with Obama. Following the roughly half-hour meeting with the president, the group planned to meet for roughly three hours.

"My expectation is that [the group's chairmen] will lay out how they intend to proceed, emphasize how important [the commission's work is], and we have a number of presenters," Conrad said, including several former directors of the Congressional Budget Office.

Conrad said the panel is expected to meet once a month, while groups within the panel will likely meet every other week.

He declined to discuss his views on possible solutions, preferring to wait to discuss them with the commission.

"You've got to start with the process and then have a fair debate ... because if you start with policy the groups in this town will kill it, left, right ... they will kill whatever good idea" is put forward, Conrad said.

Conrad reiterated that the panel should maintain the attitude that everything is on the table to bring down the deficit, including tax increases and spending cuts.

His comments come after Barbara Kennelly, CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said Monday the commission should not seek to balance the budget in the short-term by cutting Social Security.

"Simply put, Social Security has not contributed one thin dime to the current deficit," said Kennelly, a former Democratic House member from Connecticut.

Kennelly noted that Social Security is paid for with payroll taxes and is expected to remain solvent through 2037.

Conrad said he is concerned about Social Security's solvency over roughly the next 75 years "so the idea of not doing anything to me is not the answer."

Conrad also said that he believes the commission should focus on getting the nation on a sustainable fiscal path, rather than its other mandate to reduce the deficit by fiscal 2015 to 3 percent of gross domestic product. That goal was included in the budget resolution his panel approved last week.

"To me the work of this commission, the thing we really need for them to work on, is the long-term" outlook, Conrad said. "It is beyond [the five-year window] that we really need the commission to come up with solutions that deal with this long-term imbalance."

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