WASHINGTON -- After its meeting on Wednesday, it's not clear whether an 18-member bipartisan panel created to make tough choices about reining in the federal budget and reducing the deficit -- Illinois Democrats Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Jan Schakowsky are on it -- can find the 14 members needed to agree on a recommendation package to send to the Senate.
President Obama created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform last February. It was supposed to complete its mission by Wednesday. The final report, unveiled Wednesday, was e-mailed to commission members and staffers at 4 a.m. Because of the difficulty of getting agreement, the final vote was kicked over until Friday.
Schakowsky is a firm no -- the only proclaimed no so far -- and Durbin is undecided. Only seven said they would embrace the report. Schakowsky and Durbin, two progressive Democrats, share a concern that fiscal sacrifices not "disproportionately impact," as Durbin put it during the meeting, the elderly, the poor and children.
Durbin did not agree with a medical malpractice reform proposal that was part of the package. He said his "friends on the left" may be surprised that he favored a gradual increase in the Social Security retirement age. Under current law, the age increases to 67 in 2027. Proposed is making the national retirement age 68 in 2050 and 69 in 2075. Hardly "radical," Durbin said.
Schakowsky told me the proposals do nothing to address the "growing disparity" between the incomes of the rich, poor and middle class. There is nothing in the plan, she said, to "get money into people's pockets." Schakowsky crafted her own plan--released last month--that focused on economic growth by 2015 without curbing seniors' out-of-pocket Medicare costs.
"We talk about shared sacrifice. I think these numbers indicate that sacrifice, in fact, has not been shared, that some people have lost and others have significantly gained over the last several years. So we're not starting at the same point when we say we need to share the sacrifice," Schakowsky said at the meeting.
The final report -- close to a draft version released last month by commission chairmen former Sen. Alan Simpson, a Republican, and Erskine Bowles, President Clinton's former chief of staff -- needs the approval of 14 of the 18 members, and it seems unlikely the votes are there.
One big change: a suggestion to kill the mortgage interest tax deduction was withdrawn, replaced with a proposed 12 percent mortgage interest tax credit, with no credit for second residences.
There is something in the report for any Democrat or Republican not to like: a mix of tax hikes -- 15 cents a gallon on gasoline for transportation funding -- and curbs on social safety net spending --Medicare would not grow.
Other proposals include annual limits on war spending, reductions of White House and congressional budgets by 15 percent and the elimination of tax-free state and municipal bonds.
Bowles and Simpson also focus on taking out of the tax code a variety of tax breaks -- which they call tax "earmarks," and see as a sort of a giveaway.
Simpson after the meeting was not optimistic of 14 votes -- but he was convinced a spotlight was thrown on the problem.
Said Simpson, "We're rolling along. I have no idea how many votes we'll get. Hopefully, it will be productive. But this thing will not go away. It's lit. The engine is ignited."