Deficit Reduction Proposal Makes Few Happy

President Barack Obama, flanked by National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Co-Chairmen, former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, left, and former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, stresses the importance of finding a bipartisan consensus on ways to improve America's long-term fiscal health and debt reduction, Tuesday, April 27, 2010, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

President Barack Obama, flanked by National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Co-Chairmen, former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, left, and former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, stresses the importance of finding a bipartisan consensus on ways to improve America's long-term fiscal health and debt reduction, Tuesday, April 27, 2010, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

If you want a sense of how hard it is going to be for lawmakers to significantly reduce the budget deficit, consider the response to the release of a proposal by the leaders of President Obama's bipartisan deficit commission to deal with the deficit.

The proposal calls for reducing annual cost-of-living increases in Social Security, setting ambitious targets for curbing Medicare growth and eliminating tax breaks like the mortgage interest deduction. (You can read it here.)

The document, from co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, is not the bipartisan commission's final proposal, which is due at the end of the month. It likely could not win support from 14 of the commission's 18 members, which is necessary to advance it to Congress for consideration.

On the left, the proposals to touch entitlement programs are prompting particular outrage.

"This proposal is simply unacceptable," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "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, who are counting on the bedrock promises of Social Security and Medicare."

"The chairmen of the Deficit Commission just told working Americans to 'Drop Dead,'" AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said in a statement. "Especially in these tough economic times, it is unconscionable to be proposing cuts to the critical economic lifelines for working people, Social Security and Medicare."

Moveon.Org sent a message to members asking them to call President Obama and "Tell him that Americans will not stand for this Deficit Commission report and he must reject it immediately."

On a press call in September, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown, along with members of Congress, pressured the fiscal commission not to include any changes to Social Security in their recommendations.

There should be no benefit cuts, no raising the retirement age and no privatization, they argued. Sanders was explicit: He said if the commission send recommendations with cuts to Social Security, "we'll vote it down, and do everything we can to see it defeated."

Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement today that "the co-chairs of the deficit commission [are] dead set on gutting Social Security and Medicare."

"The middle class has already been hit extremely hard by the ongoing economic downturn and the housing crisis," Grijalva added. "The last thing we should do is take more money out of their pockets in the name of a conservative tax cut agenda that favors the wealthy over the rest of us."

One member of the commission, Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky, has already said she would not support the Bowles/Simpson proposal on the basis of its plans for Social Security and Medicare.

Republicans are expressing support for the goals of the proposal - in a joint statement, three Republican fiscal commission members, Dave Camp (R-MI), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), said they "appreciate the leadership" of the co-chairs and their "shared commitment to addressing our pressing fiscal challenges."

But they are less enthusiastic about the specifics.

"This is a provocative proposal, and while we have concerns with some of their specifics, we commend the co-chairs for advancing the debate," they said.

Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad, the Senate budget committee chairman, struck a similar tone.

"I commend them for putting together a serious proposal," he said. "It reveals just how difficult it is to put the nation on a sound fiscal course. Some of it I agree with; some I strongly disagree with. We will have a chance to offer alternatives as we advance the process later today and next week."

The White House essentially punted on the proposals, saying, "the president will wait until the bipartisan fiscal commission finishes its work before commenting."

"These ideas...are only a step in the process towards coming up with a set of recommendations and the President looks forward to reviewing their final product early next month," said spokesman Bill Burton.

The reception to the proposal is no surprise: While both parties have tried to stress their commitment to fiscal discipline, they have largely been reticent to identify where they would make deep cuts in the budget.

"In some ways this is a Hail Mary pass by the leaders of the commission," said CBS News Capitol Hill correspondent Bob Fuss. "They have three weeks to reach a consensus on recommendations for Congress and are nowhere near agreement."

Indeed, the release seems designed to spur debate in order to get to a proposal that could win over most of the commission's members - despite reticence on both sides to get specific bout making significant cuts to the budget. Based on the near-universal opposition to the proposal as it now stands, it's clear the commission's members have their work cut out for them.


Brian Montopoli is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.

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