National debt: 60-plus senators urge Obama to lead

By Jeanne Sahadi, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- A bipartisan group of more than 60 senators -- evenly divided between the parties -- urged President Obama in a letter on Friday to take the lead in helping them come up with a comprehensive debt-reduction plan.

"We won't have any chance unless the president joins us in the effort," Sen. Mike Johanns told reporters.

Johanns, a Republican from Nebraska, and Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, shopped the letter around to colleagues in the past two days.

In response, the administration called the bipartisan effort a "positive development" and noted the measures it has taken to reduce deficits -- such as calling for a five-year freeze on non-security discretionary spending.

"[W]e will continue to work with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to rein in our deficit, grow our economy and win the future," said White House spokesperson Amy Brundage in an e-mail.

The senators' letter doesn't endorse any particular debt-reduction plan, though it invokes the proposal put out in December by Obama's own debt commission.

"While we may not agree with every aspect of the commission's recommendations, we believe its work represents an important foundation to achieve meaningful progress on our debt," the letter says.

The commission's proposal would reduce deficits by $4 trillion over 10 years, overhaul the tax code by eliminating most tax breaks and reducing rates, establish caps on spending and revenue, and balance the budget by 2035.

The letter also does not lay out any ground rules for what should -- or should not -- be included in the debt-reduction debate. It only says, "we hope that the discussion will include discretionary spending cuts, entitlement changes and tax reform."

The point of the letter overall, Johanns said, is to signal that "we're ready to go and to get this done."

The idea came from two years of town hall meetings in Colorado, Bennet said. The refrain he heard from constituents -- both Democrats and Republicans -- was that they want a material way to address the debt.

Interestingly, he said, he saw much less division among Democrats and Republicans at his town hall meetings than he sees in the halls of the Congress.

The Bennet-Johanns letter - signed by 32 Democrats and 32 Republicans - is the latest in a line of efforts from some lawmakers and deficit hawks to build momentum for debt reduction.

"It is highly encouraging to see such a large, bipartisan group supporting serious efforts to tackle these fiscal challenges," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Among those signing on to the Bennet-Johanns letter was the so-called Gang of Six, a small group of senators that has been meeting regularly in the past few months to work out a way to turn the proposal from the president's debt commission into legislation.

The two co-chairmen of Obama's commission, meanwhile, have begun their own nonprofit project called Moment of Truth to inform lawmakers and the public about the country's fiscal problems and to help foster bipartisan compromise on a comprehensive debt-reduction plan. To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 17,504.57 -179.01 -1.01%
Nasdaq 4,917.06 -74.88 -1.50%
S&P 500 2,049.07 -19.69 -0.95%
Treasuries 2.19 -0.09 -3.78%
Data as of 11:27am ET
Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 16.48 -0.46 -2.69%
Freeport-McMoRan Inc... 16.42 -1.42 -7.96%
Micron Technology In... 17.71 -0.61 -3.33%
Intel Corp 29.43 -0.61 -2.03%
Apple Inc 124.73 -1.27 -1.01%
Data as of 11:12am ET
Sponsors

Sections

Championship women's World Cup team paid only $2 million, while championship men's team got $35 million in 2014. More

Greece has nearly run out of cash and experts say the country could soon be forced to print a new currency. This step-by-step guide explains how the nation could re-introduce the drachma. More

Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg is joining the board at SurveyMonkey, her late husband's online survey and polling company. More

Entrepreneur Guillaume Gauthereau is on a mission to build a 50 to a 100 acre sanctuary in New York to provide refuge to honey bees. More

Don't ignore your health savings account, it could be a better place for your retirement savings than your 401(k). More