Senate majority leader goes easy on deficit-cutting plan

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday he was pleased that the co-chairmen of the president's fiscal commission unveiled their budget proposal on Wednesday, but indicated that the plan would need to be changed before it would get his support.

"I thank the leaders of the bipartisan debt commission for their work," Reid said. "While I don't agree with every one of their recommendations, what they have provided is a starting point for this important discussion. I look forward to the full commission's recommendations and to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address this important issue."

The deficit commission is expected to meet behind closed doors as soon as Monday to begin working out differences over the draft package. The panel is scheduled to present its package of recommendations by December 1, and Democratic leaders have pledged to consider it. But first, 14 of the 18 commission members must approve the proposal.

The panel's two co-chairs -- Erskine Bowles, a former White House chief of staff under President Clinton, and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo. -- stressed that the proposal will need to be further negotiated to win the backing of the commission as a whole. The plan is designed cut the deficit to 2.2 percent of gross domestic product in 2015, down from 8.9 percent in 2010, by raising the retirement age for Social Security benefits, reforming the tax code, and cutting discretionary spending.

Reid's comments were more muted than those of other Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who were concerned with proposed cuts to social safety net programs, and particularly with a provision to increase the retirement age for Social Security benefits over the next several decades.

"This proposal is simply unacceptable," Pelosi said in a statement. "Any final proposal from the Commission should do what is right for our children and grandchildren's economic security as well as for our nation's fiscal security, and it must do what is right for our seniors."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., had harsh words for the retirement age proposal.

"The Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan is extremely disappointing and something that should be vigorously opposed by the American people," Sanders said in a statement. "It is reprehensible to ask working people, including many who do physically-demanding labor, to work until they are 69 years of age. It also is totally impractical. As they compete for jobs with 25-year-olds, many older workers will go unemployed and have virtually no income. Frankly, there will not be too much demand within the construction industry for 69-year-old bricklayers."

Republicans were more circumspect.

Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., the likely House Way and Means Chairman next Congress, called the proposal "a good effort," but when pressed for details, he added that it needs further review.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the likely Budget Committee Chairman, praised the chairmen for offering a "serious plan," adding, "I like some things. I don't like other things."

Also Thursday, the commission was praised by the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan anti-deficit advocacy group, for taking a bold first step.

"Bowles and Simpson have delivered a valuable and sobering fiscal reality check," said Concord Coalition Executive Director Robert Bixby. "Their recommendations put aside partisan rhetoric and get at the essential trade-offs we need to confront among spending, taxes and debt."

Dan Friedman contributed to this report.

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