Two Republican senators back deficit plan

The support means the plan will likely win a panel majority and provides momentum as it heads for a vote

Published December 2, 2010 6:01PM (EST)

Two of the Senate's most conservative Republicans on Thursday swung behind a controversial deficit-slashing plan from the leaders of President Barack Obama's debt commission, giving the plan momentum as it heads for a vote.

The support from Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mike Crapo of Idaho means the controversial plan to cut the deficit by almost $4 trillion over the coming decade is likely to win a majority of the panel's 18 members Friday. It is still likely to fall short of the 14 votes needed to send it to Congress for consideration. Nonetheless, lawmakers on both sides of the plan view it as a first step in debt-control efforts.

"The time for action is now," Coburn and Crapo said in a statement. "This plan will not just avert a disaster, but help drive the kind of economic recovery we need to create jobs and spur growth."

Commission co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson released the plan Wednesday. It's heavy with politically painful spending curbs such as increasing the Social Security retirement age and reducing future increases to benefits. It also contains a radical overhaul of the tax code that eliminates or scales back lucrative tax breaks in exchange for rate cuts on corporate and income taxes.

The plan opened to catcalls from advocates on the left -- over cuts to Social Security and other programs -- and the right, who oppose the fact it's estimated to produce almost $1 trillion in higher tax revenues over the coming decade.

Coburn and Crapo said that if lawmakers fail to act now, they will have to face far more painful choices than those proposed by the panel.

"If we do not take actions, the tax increases that this Congress will face -- and probably have to pass -- are far greater than any kind of arguable tax increase in this bill," Crapo said.

They said the tax overhaul is likely to spur economic growth that would add even more revenues to federal coffers. They compared it to the 1986 tax reforms sponsored by Republican icon Ronald Reagan.

The plan endorses tax brackets of 12 percent, 21 percent and 28 percent to replace brackets of 15 percent, 28 percent and 35 percent.

The announcement by Coburn and Crapo means that nine of the 18 commissioners have publicly endorsed the plan. House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt Jr., D-S.C., says he is leaning in favor.

But it takes 14 members to officially approve the measure for a vote in Congress. That requirement was designed to require any plan achieve consensus among Democrats and Republicans.

That still seems out of reach, but Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, is weighing an aye vote. He raised eyebrows when he endorsed raising the Social Security retirement age from 67 to 69 over the coming 65 years.

But Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., came out against the plan Thursday. Two other House Republicans appear opposed, as is liberal Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.

By Andrew Taylor

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