Bowles-Simpson back on table

@CNNMoney April 17, 2012: 6:34 PM ET
Bowles-Simpson back on table

By putting forth the debt-reduction proposals from President Obama's bipartisan fiscal commission, retiring Sen. Kent Conrad said he is trying to break from 'business as usual' partisanship.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- A key senator said Tuesday he would try to revive the so-called Bowles-Simpson plan as a starting point in negotiations over a long-term debt-reduction plan.

Democrat Kent Conrad, the Senate Budget Committee chairman, announced he would present the plan as his opening bid at the committee's budget mark-up on Wednesday.

Bowles-Simpson is the product of the co-chairmen of President Obama's bipartisan fiscal commission that won the support of 11 of the 18 members in 2010. Conrad sat on the commission and was one of the five Democrats who voted for it.

"[I]t is not perfect, and it needs to be further updated to account for changes that have occurred since it was drafted in 2010. Those adjustments will have to be negotiated on a bipartisan basis, and those negotiations will take time," Conrad said Tuesday.

The original Bowles-Simpson plan would reduce deficits by at least $4 trillion over 10 years by cutting defense and discretionary spending, curbing federal entitlement costs and reforming the tax code.

Despite getting bipartisan support on the commission, the plan didn't get the 14 votes needed to present the group's recommendations to Congress for a legislative vote. And since then critics on the left and the right have found much to object to in the plan. Indeed, the House recently voted down a version of the Bowles-Simpson plan offered as an amendment to the House budget.

In a statement Tuesday, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson urged critics of their plan to engage in constructive debate about the issue. "Don't shoot down an idea without offering a better idea in its place," they said.

That's easier said than done in Washington, where fiscal policy has been stymied by partisan divisions.

Conrad said that budget committee members would give opening statements on Wednesday but then have "an extended period" to evaluate the plan. Congress may only be able to address the issue seriously after the November elections, he added.

The committee's top Republican, Jeff Sessions, said he was surprised by Conrad's announcement and doubted the process would be seen through to completion.

"I don't think it can be called a mark-up," said Sessions, who also said he couldn't support Bowles-Simpson, calling it "one more-tax-and-spend plan, like the president's budget."

Even if the budget committee were to amend and pass a long-term debt reduction plan in the coming weeks, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already made clear he will not be bring any budget to the floor for a vote this year. The budget parameters for the 2013 fiscal year, which begins in October, were already laid down in the Budget Control Act deal worked out last summer, Reid has said.

In the House, Republicans have passed a budget that Democrats say didn't honor the terms of the Budget Control Act because it reduced spending further than agreed to. And Republicans continue to charge that Democrats haven't passed a real budget in more than 1,000 days.

Conrad, like Reid, says the budget for 2013 was set by the Budget Control Act.

"What we do not have is agreement on a long-term budget plan," Conrad said. "We need to start the ... negotiation now if we're going to be ready for what we all know is coming at us at end of the year."

That's when lawmakers will face the so-called fiscal cliff: The expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the triggering of mostly across-the-board budget cuts nobody supports, possibly another need to raise the country's borrowing limit, and a host of other expiring fiscal policies. To top of page

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