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Cat Food Commission Co-Chairs Release Benefit-Slashing Report to Pressure Commission Members

Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, co-chairs of the President’s fiscal commission, are holding a surprise press conference at this hour to announce the chairman’s mark for recommendations to deal with the nation’s budget deficit. Included in those recommendations are benefit cuts to Social Security and Medicare, as well as tax changes.

Importantly, this is a political gambit. It represents only the opinions of Bowles and Simpson and is not a consensus document. Clearly, the co-chairs are putting this out there to increase pressure on the commission members.

“This is not a package that I could support,” Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, said during a break in a private meeting by the commission. She said any package able to win 14 votes on the panel would have to look “very different” from the options being discussed.

Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, called the plan a “starting point for the conversation.”

“We’re not going to have an up-or-down vote on this,” said Durbin. “There are proposals in there that are painful. I told them I said there are things in here which inspire me and other things which I hate like the devil hates holy water. I’m not going to vote for those things.”

Some Republicans also expressed skepticism that the report would survive in its current form. New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg called the plan a “starting point.” Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas said “some of it I like, some of it disturbs me.”

On the specifics, according to Jamie Coleman, the recommendations would be phased in over a long time horizon. Here’s what he claims:

Spending cuts phased in over a number of years to avoid undercutting economic recovery
Comprehensive social security reform including raising retirement age to 68 by 2050, 69 by 2075; reduced benefits for middle, upper income retirees
Reduced base rate for corporate taxes
Dramatic tax reform including dropping home mortgage interest deduction
Cut defense spending, close additional US bases

Alex Lawson has a livestream of the press conference going, after being initially thrown out of the conference. But the audio is a little faint. Basically you have the reduction in tax rates coupled by the elimination of tax expenditures, and a long-term reduction in Social Security benefits with increases in the retirement age and progressive price indexing. On health care, they pay for the doctor’s fix with cuts in provider rates, and “increases in cost-sharing,” which basically means higher costs for Medicare.

There will be a draft on its way soon.

UPDATE: Bowles says he’s not asking anyone to vote for this plan, and that it’s a starting point. Nobody likes everything in it, so obviously it’s the best thing evah.

UPDATE II: I kind of agree that this extremely hasty press conference shows how thin the support actually is for Bowles and Simpson’s fever dreams. Unable to get what they want in secret, they had to go public to hopefully get enough backing to put pressure on the commission members.

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David Dayen

David Dayen