Claiming it’s better to be right than quick, four of the five remaining Senators in the bi-partisan group seeking a long-term fix to the nation’s deficit problem said their plan will not be ready in time for consideration by the presidential panel led by Vice President Joe Biden that is negotiating a debt-ceiling deal.
“There’s no timetable,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., at an afternoon panel discussion at the Peter Foundation’s Fiscal Summit. “Our statement has consistently been that we’re going to role this out when we get it right.”
Any proposal coming from the group, then, is likely to be added to the lengthening list of plans aimed at bringing down the nation’s long-term deficit, which is rapidly emerging as one of major issues in next year’s election. Plans that are already on the table, all of which roughly reduced the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade, include the pledge offered by President Obama in his April speech at George Washington University; the “no new taxes-chop Medicare and Medicaid” plan championed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that was passed by the House in March; and the bi-partisan deficit commission plan offered last December, which called for about two dollars in cuts for every dollar in increased taxes.
The Gang of Five’s plan, when it does emerge, will have the advantage of being a bi-partisan starting point backed by people who actually get to vote on proposals. Senators from both parties emphasized that point in discussing why it was taking so long to reach an agreement.
“It’s going to be a plan that nobody is going to like in all its parts,” said Chambliss. “It’s going to call for shared sacrifice.” Other Senators “understand our process is the only hope,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who also served on the deficit commission. “Biden and the president have been encouraging to us.”
The group, known as the Gang of Six until Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., pulled out citing Democrats’ refusal to consider significant entitlement cuts, appears close to an agreement on the tax side of the ledger.
“We need to have very significant tax reform,” said Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, who also served on the deficit commission. “We have to change the paradigm . . . to developing a tax code this is simpler, fairer and makes our companies more globally competitive.”
Both Democrats on the panel insisted that any adjustments in entitlements must protect the most vulnerable Americans – retirees who rely solely or mostly on Social Security for income, and the very poor, whether elderly or not. “With revenues at 14.4 percent of GDP and expenditures at 25 percent, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that’s not sustainable,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA... “We need to figure out . . . how we can cut back on some of the entitlement programs while ensuring the safety net.”
“There is more vulnerability today because of two things: disparity of incomes, where many people are working harder and falling further behind; and the uncertainty of their future,” said Durbin. “When people talk about Social Security, it is literally their safety net. They get very nervous when we start talking about it.”
The Fiscal Times, an independent business venture, is funded by Pete Peterson, but is not affiliated with his foundation.