At the fiscal commission meeting; Sen. Dick Durbin back, right, Rep. Jan Schakowsky right; standing in back commission co-chairs former Sen. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, talking to Schakowsky (photo by Lynn Sweet)
WASHINGTON--The bi-partisan fiscal commission is having its last meeting Friday morning in the Dirksen Senate office building. There are not a supermajority of votes--14 out of 18--for the commission report on curbing the federal defict and spending to be sent to the Senate.
But there was a majority--the final tally was 11-7, with six elected lawmakers, three Democrats and three Republicans supporting the suggestions for the spending cuts and tax hike package. Read the report here
Two Illinois Democrats on the panel split: Sen. Dick Durbin is a yes and Rep. Jan Schakowsky is a no.
"A strong bi-partisan coalition has already voted for this plan," co-chair Erskine Bowles said. "...This plan will make an important first step forward....the nation will "understand the peril" of ever increasing debt," he said.
Durbin caught flak, he said, from his progessive supporters for backing the report, which includes medical malpractice reforms and curbs on social safety net spending. He explained why: he saw the report as a first step--not a final one--to addressing the problem.
"And so I've received a few phone calls in the last 24 hours," Durbin said. "And some of my closest friends and allies in politics can't understand this. They have said, why is a progressive like Dick Durbin voting for this deficit-commission report? Well, here's why.
"I believe that politicians on the left and the right, Democrats and Republicans, have to acknowledge the deficit crisis our nation faces. When we borrow 40 cents out of every dollar we spend, whether it's in the Pentagon or for food stamps, that's unsustainable. And being indebted for generations to China, OPEC and other nations around the
world will not allow us to build a fair and just America.
"When we engage in the critical decisions about our nation's future budgets, I want progressive voices at the table to argue that we must protect the most vulnerable in our society and demand fairness in budget cuts. Today with my vote, I'm claiming a seat at that table.
"To use an analogy that only a senator might use, I don't view this as a vote on final passage. I wouldn't vote for this commission report on final passage, but I do believe it's a vote on a motion to proceed, to begin the debate. This is a report that is meant to
kick start an adult debate on the debt that the United States Congress absolutely must face. That's why I'm voting yes," Durbin said.
Schakowsky said the plan went too far in "eroding the middle class in America" and the "alarming redistribution of wealth that is shrinking the middle class," noting that Congress is balking over extending unemployment benefits.
While there is talk about shared sacrifice, "I ask, painful for whom?" Schakowsky said. Schakowsky authored a plan that revives the public option and cap and trade climate programs.
The plan asks Medicare beneficiaries to pay more out of their own pockets, cuts Medicare by imposing higher cost-sharing requirements and shaves Social Security benefits."We don't need to cut Social Security in order to save it," she said.
But the commission has proven that having the discussion about fiscal restraint is not "mission impossible," she said.
Commission co-chair former Sen. Alan Simpson, a Republican, speaking of Durbin, said
"Everyone of us has cast tough votes, maybe the toughest of your, careers, but I must single out one person. I served in the U.S. Senate for 18 years, 10 years as assistant majority and minority leader under Bob Dole, and I always enjoyed the assistant majority leader role much more than the other.
"But the role of the leader is to lead, and you did, Dick Durbin. You and I have worked on feckless causes before. How about Americans for Campaign Reform? That was a dazzler. You can see how well we've done there ---- and -- but again, the leader.
And to have five of the six senators appointed support this remarkable plan is very special. But I just leave you with one thought, Dick. The tallest tree catches the most wind, and the breezes are going to blow around your head."