Debt proposal halfway there; wins support from seven commissioners

Seven members of President Obama’s debt commission have offered their support to a new deficit-reduction plan presented by the panel’s chairmen.

Supporters include Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) and retiring Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who announced they would back the chairmen during Wednesday’s public meeting. 

“There are no easy fixes here, so while I do not agree with all parts of the co-chairmen’s final proposal, I will support it because it represents a step forward that we urgently need,” Gregg said.

Another member, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), has said he might vote yes to keep the conversation going, lifting hopes the proposal could get the 14 votes necessary to move forward.

Fourteen of the 18 commission members must approve the plan for it to be adopted. The commission is scheduled to vote on the proposal Friday after an earlier vote was delayed. House and Senate leaders have said they would allow the plan to come up for a vote if it is approved by the commission.

The proposal offered by Democrat Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) on Wednesday would cut the deficit by $3.9 trillion by 2020 and would reduce national debt as a percentage of GDP to 40 percent by 2035.

Only three members have suggested they are likely to vote against the plan. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who blasted the proposal because it does not repeal elements of Obama’s healthcare reform, is leaning toward voting against the plan but is not a fully declared no vote.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) joined Ryan in saying he opposed the plan because it does not reopen the healthcare debate while Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said she would be voting “no” because the plan does not have enough stimulus spending and makes too deep a cut to social spending.

In addition to Gregg and Conrad, David Cote of Honeywell, Ann Fudge, the former CEO of Young & Rubicam Brands, and Alice Rivlin of the Bipartisan Policy Center said they would vote yes. Bowles and Simpson are also yes votes.

Several other members said they were undecided, but they suggested they might support the proposal.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said he is undecided on the proposal, but he suggested he could support it if changes were made to it. He did not specify what changes he was seeking.

House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-SC.), who lost his reelection bid in November, said he is leaning toward supporting the proposal.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) is also undecided and said the plan does not do enough on healthcare.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he needed more time to study the agreement, but he criticized the chairmen for saying banning earmarks would save $16 billion. He said the notion that earmarks contribute to the deficit is a myth and eliminating earmarks should not be in the plan.

Andrew Stern, the former president of the Service Employees International Union, has written his own deficit reduction plan and has criticized some parts of the chairmen’s proposal. He has been thought to be a no vote but did not say Wednesday how he would vote.

Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and likely incoming House Ways and Means committee chairman David Camp (R-Mich.) did not attend the meeting.