No one ever said this wouldn't be semi-tough. The bipartisan deficit commission, rocked by criticism of painful draft recommendations by its leaders, has postponed for two days a vote on its report about how to address the nation's mounting budget problem.
The final report, formally unveiled Wednesday, calls for raising the age for Social Security benefits, sharp cuts in military spending and changes in tax law that would cost the average taxpayer an extra $1,700 annually, the Washington Post reported.
After working its staff into the wee hours Monday and Tuesday, the president's panel decided to stretch out its Wednesday deadline in an effort to find some consensus among at least 14 of its 18 members, McClatchy newspapers said. "It's all about making tough, difficult choices," said former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, co-chairman of the commission.
Time is running out, Bowles said, as eventually the financial markets will force action on the nation's growing debt. "I'd like to think we have six years, but I sure wouldn't make a bet on it," he said. Co-Chairman Alan Simpson, an outspoken former Republican senator from Wyoming, said the political outcry against the panel's preliminary recommendations was a predictable appeal to emotion and fear.
Objections have come from the left and right of the political spectrum. In an effort to trim annual deficits by $3.9 trillion over the next nine years, Bowles and Simpson would charge higher premiums for Medicare, end the home mortgage deduction and raise gasoline taxes, among other changes. The retirement age would go to 68 by 2050, and to 69 by 2075.
If Bowles and Simpson can get 12 of their colleagues on board with some version of the report, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised to bring the report up for consideration before the Senate. Among the commission's members: The Senate's assistant majority leader, Dick Durbin of Illinois, one of 12 members of Congress serving on the commission.
"I don't know if we're going to get two votes or five votes or 10 votes or 14 votes," Bowles told reporters. ". . . But one thing is certain: The problem is real. The solutions are painful. And there are no easy choices."
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), both of whom are on the panel, indicated their support for the recommendations Wednesday, despite qualms about some of them. "I'm going to support this plan and support it strongly," Conrad said, "because I don't see another alternative. I just don't."