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Obama debt commission: It's almost a wrap

By Jeanne Sahadi, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- After working for eight months, the 18 members of President Obama's bipartisan deficit commission will finish their deliberations this week over how to reduce the nation's long-term debt.

Expectations are low that the panel, which holds its final public meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, will get the 14 votes required to make official recommendations to Congress.

But even if the panel doesn't produce a unified report, the group's efforts may not have been in vain.

That's because the commission's co-chairmen, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, have already gotten the national conversation started. Nearly three weeks ago, they unexpectedly released proposals that offer a framework for the debate over how to reduce the debt.

Meanwhile, other credible reports have echoed the major takeaway from the Bowles-Simpson plan: The growth in debt can't be curbed by half-measures or by exempting wholesale either spending cuts or tax increases.

Moreover, Bowles-Simpson will be a benchmark against which Obama's 2012 budget -- due out in February -- can be measured.

That's because Obama has promised to offer serious deficit-reduction proposals next year.

"When I start presenting some very difficult choices to the country, I hope some of these folks who are hollering about deficits and debt step up, because I'm calling their bluff," the president said at a press conference during the G-20 summit in June.

The Bowles-Simpson plan is a tall order to match. It aims to reduce deficits over the next decade by $4 trillion, three-quarters of which would come from spending cuts and the rest from increasing tax revenue. If interest payments are excluded, the split is 70-30 between spending and taxes. As the co-chairmen promised for months, they hit all parts of the federal budget. (Video: 'Headed for disaster')

While the president encouraged them to consider everything on the table when he established the debt commission last February, the proof will be in his 2012 budget whether he's willing to do the same. To top of page

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