WASHINGTON – Divisions remain within President Barack Obama's deficit commission on politically explosive budget cuts and slashes in Social Security benefits, even as the panel's co-chairmen go public with a revised plan to tame the runaway national debt.
The new plan by co-chairmen Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, to be unveiled Wednesday, faces an uphill slog. Resistance is certain, not only because of the idea of raising the Social Security retirement age, but also because of proposed cuts to Medicare, curtailment of tax breaks and a doubling of the federal tax on a gallon of gasoline.
Though the plan appears unlikely to win enough bipartisan support from the panel to be approved for a vote in Congress this year or next, Bowles has already declared victory, saying he and Simpson have at least succeeded in initiating an "adult conversation" in the country about the pain it will take to cut the deficit.
The plan faces opposition from many commission members. House Republicans appear uniformly against tax increases, while liberal Democrats like Jan Schakowsky of Illinois appear unlikely to be able to accept big cuts in federal programs for seniors.
Obama named the commission in hopes of bringing a deficit-fighting plan up for a vote in Congress this year, but it appears to be falling well short of the 14-vote bipartisan supermajority needed.
A new version of the plan, obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday, makes mostly minor changes to a draft that whipped up enormous controversy when unveiled earlier this month. Some domestic spending cuts are modestly higher than previously proposed, and health care savings from overhauling the medical malpractice system would reap less than proposed earlier this month.
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