The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction held a hearing on November 1 to review deficit reduction proposals offered by members of Congress in the last year.
After previous committee hearings were interrupted by observers objecting or protesting, Committee Co-chair Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) opened the latest hearing by reminding observers that they were not to indicate in any way approval or disapproval of the committee members or witnesses.
Committee Co-chair Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) said in her opening statement that the Committee was in the critical final phase of its process, with just 23 days remaining before it is charged with presenting a plan to Congress to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion. Senator Murray emphasized the importance of reaching the goal because the “consequences of failure are unacceptable.” She said that sequestration, which would be triggered if the Committee does not identify $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, “would be devastating for national defense, middle class families and the most vulnerable households that depend on the government for education, housing and nutrition assistance.” She said that a bipartisan plan is possible and that Democrats are open to painful concessions and compromises, but any plan must require corporations and wealthy people to share in the sacrifice.
Erskine Bowles, chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, testified on the deficit plan that he constructed with former Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY) late in 2010 as co-chairs of the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Mr. Bowles and Senator Simpson suggested that the committee use the commission’s guiding principles of not disrupting a still-fragile economy, protecting the truly disadvantaged, not jeopardizing the safety of the country, protecting the nation’s investments, reforming the tax code, and cutting spending. Mr. Bowles urged the Committee to “go big, go bold” with its plan.
Senator Simpson pointed out the bipartisan support for the Commission’s proposal in the Senate, citing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) as supporters.
Former Senator Pete Domenici and Dr. Alice Rivlin, co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force, testified on the deficit reduction plan they jointly created in 2010. Senator Domenici, who chaired the Senate Committee on the Budget during his tenure in the Senate, discussed the urgency he sees in addressing the nation’s fiscal state. He said that, “those who oppose entitlement reform or revenue increases will be equally complicit in letting America destroy itself.” Neglect of the country’s economic problems, Mr. Domenici said, will result in slower economic growth in the future and a less prosperous nation.
Dr. Rivlin suggested that the committee had an obligation and opportunity to achieve both job creation and fiscal responsibility and urged committee members to craft a plan that saves at least $4 trillion over 10 years. This plan, said Dr. Rivlin, should include structural, entitlement and tax reform. Her testimony highlighted restructuring of Medicare and an approach characterized as “pro-growth” tax reform. Dr. Rivlin also served on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform and was a director of the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton administration.
Dr. Rivlin and Mr. Domenici urged the committee to use a provision in the Budget Control Act that would allow it to instruct House and Senate authorizing committees to fast-track their recommendations.
November 23 is the deadline for the Joint Select Committee to provide Congress with a plan to reach a minimum of $1.2 trillion in savings over the next 10 years.