Senator doubtful deficit panel will reach required consensus

Citing the charged partisan atmosphere expected to follow the mid-term elections, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., cast doubt Thursday that the president's deficit commission would be able to agree to a package of tax increases and spending cuts that would bring down the deficit to 3 percent of gross domestic product by 2015. "This deficit commission...could not be starting its work in a more poisoned and toxic atmosphere than a few days after this campaign," Durbin said on MSNBC's Morning Joe. Durbin is a member of the 18 member bipartisan commission, which was created by an executive order in February. Under the order, the panel is scheduled to submit a proposal to Congress Dec. 1 that would cut the deficit to 3 percent of GDP in five years. The commission will also provide recommendations on improving the nation's long-term fiscal picture. The Congressional Budget Office recently put the deficit for 2010, which ended Sept. 30, at about 9 percent of GDP. The 9 percent of GDP figure was the second highest shortfall as a share of the economy since 1945. Following the election, the group is expected to seriously begin crafting its deficit cutting package after holding five public meetings and a number of closed door sessions. Senate and House Democratic leaders have pledged to hold votes on the proposals, but the executive order also requires that 14 of the 18 members of the panel first approve the commission's package. Durbin said he believes that the partisan political landscape will likely prevent that level of consensus from being reached. "To think that we are going to have 14 out of 18 come to an agreement over how to balance our budget over the next 20 years; it's going to be extremely difficult," Durbin said. Republicans have been skeptical of the commission since Obama created it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Republicans have said that the panel could be used as a vehicle to raise taxes, which is something they oppose. But ultimately Republican leaders named six of their members to the commission. Democrats may also have trouble signing off on the recommendations if they include cuts to programs that they hold dear, such as Social Security. Durbin's comments come after other panel members have also noted that the task of getting 14 members to agree will be tough, including Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and ranking member Judd Gregg, R-N.H. Durbin also said that he opposed increasing the retirement age for Social Security - a move called for in a deficit-reduction plan written by House Budget Committee ranking member Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Durbin said raising the retirement age would be unfair to workers who do physical labor. "It's tough to say just stick around and deliver mail for another couple of years, be a waitress for another couple of years," Durbin said. Instead he recommends boosting the percent of wages that can be taxed to fund Social Security. He said in 1983 90 percent of wages were subject to Social Security taxes and now only 83 percent are. He added that the increase would come from beneficiaries "in upper income categories or their employers."
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