Obama deficit panel likely to come up empty-handed, Democrat says

Jon Ward Contributor
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A leading Democrat on President Obama’s deficit commission said that the proposal released by the panel’s co-chairs last week would receive support from no one on the 18-member body, and strongly signaled that the Dec. 1 deadline will pass without any agreement on a set of recommendations.

“That proposal as is would have received approximately zero votes on the commission,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat, at a morning press conference on Capitol Hill, referring to the draft released by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. “So we have a great deal of work to do.”

The commission is meeting Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning in closed sessions, and then will hold its final two meetings on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

One Republican discounted Schakowsky’s comments.

“I don’t believe that is an accurate whip count,” said John Hart, spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican. “It is going to take time to persuade some members to leave progressive fantasyland where all of our problems can be solved through tax increases.”

But Schakowsky, who unveiled her own set of proposals Tuesday that included $144 billion in new taxes (click here to read her plan, and here to read the Bowles/Simpson plan), indicated that the two sides on the commission are so far apart that they will not get approval of any document from 14 of its 18 members. If such an agreement were reached, the recommendations would be sent to the Senate for legislative action, though a bill would not be required.

“If we don’t come up with an agreement, I don’t think the effort was wasted,” Schakowsky said. “I think there are a lot of ideas that have been put out there. It should not be characterized as a failure even if we can’t come up with a proposal.”

In an interview after her press conference, Schakowsky said that the ideas generated by the commission could end up comprising a “laundry list” of actions that both liberals and conservatives could agree on.

“It may be that the best we can do is have the proposals on the table and some specifics that the 14 of us agree on, and that’s it,” she said.

Elements that were included in both the Bowles/Simpson plan and Schakowsky’s include cuts to defense spending, increasing Social Security taxes on higher income brackets, a proposal by Coburn to save $400 million a year by eliminating government printing projects on things such as the daily congressional record, trimming the federal vehicle budget and federal travel budget, and eliminating tax loopholes.

Even on issues such as tax loopholes, conservatives who favor eliminating most of them condition their support on the reduction of the corporate income tax rate, which is one of the highest in the developed world, making the U.S. uncompetitive when it comes to attracting business.

Schakowsky said she was not inclined to compromise on that matter.

“What I’ve asked for from the start have been distributional analyses: the question of who pays, and who benefits,” she told TheDC.

When asked about broader compromises during her press conference, Schakowsky said she did not intend to do so.

“I don’t quite understand the notion of what would I give up,” she said. “This notion that somehow, ‘What will middle income people sacrifice?’ Right now, by and large, all of the sacrifice in the struggling economy has been made by middle and low-income people.”

Schakowsky said her proposals would reduce the deficit in 2015 by $425 billion.

Her plan would raise the estate tax, increase capital gains and dividend tax rates and implement a cap-and-trade system for $144 billion in new taxes, cut $110 billion in defense spending, save $132 billion by eliminating tax loopholes and cut $8.5 billion in non-defense discretionary programs.

Her plan also said it would save $27 billion by eliminating mandatory spending, but $10 billion of that would come from creating a government-run “public option” for health care, which was scored by the Congressional Budget Office as saving that amount but is the target of significant criticism from conservatives as a big step in the direction of a health care system run entirely by the government.

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