Fiscal panel lacks votes to pass plan

The two chairmen of President Obama’s fiscal commission on Tuesday acknowledged they might not get the support needed to move forward with their recommendations for cutting the nation’s budget deficit.

Fiscal commission co-chairmen Erskine Bowles, a Democrat, and former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson (Wyo.) will release their final plan for cutting the nation’s red ink on Wednesday.

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The fiscal panel had been scheduled to vote on the proposal after its release, but in a likely sign the commission has yet to reach consensus, Bowles and Simpson said the vote would be delayed until Friday to give members more time to study the report.

The deficit proposal will not be brought up for votes in the House and Senate unless it is approved by 14 of the commission’s 18 members. The co-chairmen said the report was still being finalized as of Tuesday night, but they gave strong indications that they aren’t hopeful of attracting the needed support.

“We haven’t been on our knees,” Simpson said. “If we get two votes, we get two votes.”

Bowles added: “We could get anywhere from two to 14 [votes in favor].”

The proposal has been revised based on conversations with individual panel members, but the duo said that it would be no less vigorous in its deficit cutting than the draft chairmen’s proposal released on Nov. 10.

“It is not going to be some watered-down version of the chairmen’s mark, I guarantee you,” Bowles said.

The draft proposal sought to reduce the deficit by $3.8 trillion in nine years. Bowles said the revised plan would cut the deficit by at least that amount.

A House aide told The Hill that commission member Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is unlikely to vote for the revised plan, based on a briefing he received from the commission co-chairmen.

As incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan is considered one of the leading voices in the Republican Party on fiscal issues, so his opposition could indicate that other GOP members of the panel are also inclined to oppose the plan.

Bowles said that the deficit report has a painful concession for every member of the commission, including him. Bowles said proposals to reduce the federal work force by 200,000 workers are difficult for him to agree to. Simpson, meanwhile, said that the proposal to eliminate tax breaks for fossil fuels would hurt businesses in his home state of Wyoming, but stressed that those companies have to make sacrifices as well.

Bowles said a “no” vote on the report would be a mistake because the public recognizes the deficit is a “cancer” eating the country from within.

 “The era of deficit denial in Washington is over,” Bowles said.

Simpson predicted that “zealots” from the far right and far left would attack the final proposal after it’s released.

Simpson said that cutting the deficit in a reasonable way is preferable to the chaos he said will break out next spring when Congress must vote to raise the federal debt level. He said the newcomers in Congress, believing they have been sent to Capitol Hill with a clear mandate to reduce spending, would instead facilitate hasty, “random” spending cuts.

 Simpson and Bowles gave few other details about their final plan, but emphasized that it would continue to call for the elimination of tax expenditures that they said unfairly drain the Treasury of $1.7 trillion per year. Doing so would allow them to lower individual tax rates to 8 percent for those making below $70,000, 14 percent for those making up to $260,000 and 23 percent for those making more.

 The plan will not be written in legislative language because the commission has not had time to craft it, Simpson said. He said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could begin working on such language in the next Congress.

The co-chairmen said that they had not heard from Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) about his views on possibly taking up the plan.