Thursday, November 11, 2010
Debt Commission Seeks Social Security Cuts and Tax Increases - NYTimes.com
WASHINGTON — The chairmen of President Obama’s bipartisan commission on reducing the national debt outlined a politically provocative and economically ambitious package of spending cuts and tax increases on Wednesday, igniting a debate that is likely to grip the country for years.
The plan calls for deep cuts in domestic and military spending, a gradual 15-cents-a-gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax, limiting or eliminating popular tax breaks in return for lower rates, and benefit cuts and an increased retirement age for Social Security.
Those changes and others, none of which would take effect before 2012 to avoid undermining the tepid economic recovery, would erase nearly $4 trillion from projected deficits through 2020, the proposal says, and stabilize the accumulated debt.
“It’s time to lay it out on the table and let the American people start to chew on it,” said Alan K. Simpson, the former Republican Senate leader who is one of the co-chairmen, along with Erskine B. Bowles, who was White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton.
Their outline will be the basis for negotiation within the commission, which has a Dec. 1 deadline for submitting a final plan. It represents a challenge to both parties: to Mr. Obama and the Democrats, to show in the wake of the midterm election that they are serious about their pledges to address long-term deficits, and to Republicans, who for the most part have ruled out consideration of tax increases even as they have promised new adherence to fiscal responsibility.
Liberal groups immediately condemned the plan when news of it broke, for its Social Security and Medicare changes and for the scope of the spending cuts. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in a statement called it “simply unacceptable.”
The furor on the left was not matched — yet — by a similar outcry from the right to the draft’s proposed revenue increases, cuts to the military or other options.
The plan has many elements with the potential to draw intense political fire. It lays out options for overhauling the tax code that include limiting or eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit. It envisions cutting Pentagon weapons programs and paring back almost all domestic programs.
The plan would reduce cost-of-living increases for all federal programs, including Social Security. It would reduce projected Social Security benefits to most retirees in later decades, though low-income people would get higher benefits. The retirement age for full benefits would be slowly raised to 69 from 67 by 2075, with a “hardship exemption” for people who physically cannot work past 62. And higher levels of income would be subject to payroll taxes.
But the plan would not count Social Security savings toward the overall deficit-reduction goal that Mr. Obama set for fiscal year 2015, reflecting the chairmen’s sensitivity to liberal critics who have complained that Social Security should be fixed only for its own sake, not to help balance the nation’s books.