Fiscal commission leaders back spending cuts, tax increases

The chairmen of President Obama's fiscal commission proposed a sweeping collection of spending cuts and tax increases Wednesday in a bid to jolt the panel's 16 other members out of their Republican and Democratic orthodoxies.

The proposals are believed to include proposed reductions in future Social Security benefits -- an untouchable issue for many Democrats -- as well as tax hikes that Republicans in Congress have vowed to oppose.

But while the proposals represent an agreement between 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. -- panel members immediately made it clear they did not amount to a consensus.

Indeed, several lawmakers on the panel, who were briefed on the proposals earlier Wednesday, immediately made it clear they hadn't bought into the proposals.

The panel is supposed to present recommendations to Congress by December 1, less than three weeks from now. But experts are skeptical that it will be able to reach a consensus, because 14 of the 18 members need to support any recommendations. With 12 of those members being current lawmakers in Congress -- six Democrats and six Republicans -- experts are skeptical that the panel will be able to avoid a stalemate.

Bowles and Simpson decided to hold an impromptu press conference at 1 p.m. after reporters had gathered outside the commission's closed-door session, which began Wednesday morning and could go through the afternoon.

At the meeting Bowles and Simpson presented their package to the members, many of which said they could not support the proposal in its current form.

"The chairmen have made their proposal, it's a serious proposal," said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who stressed that the package "is the starting point of our conversation."

While commission members were reticent on offering details of the plan, Durbin said that the proposal exceeds the president's goal of bringing down the deficit to about 3 percent of gross domestic product by 2015.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said that the chairmen have proposed to make Social Security solvent and make adjustments to Medicare, both of which she characterized as cuts.

"It's not a proposal I can support right now," she said.

"I think if there were to be a vote of 14, it would look very different from the proposal that was made by the chairmen and I can't imagine that they didn't understand that," Schakowsky said.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas said he is still considering the chairmen's proposals. "It's a provocative proposal, some of it I like, some it disturbs me, and some of it I have to study.

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