Distinguished Group of Former Politicians Calls for Deep Cuts

Led by Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin, group offers own version of deficit reduction plan

It sounds nice—in theory. A bipartisan group of budget experts unveiled a bold plan to curb the deficit and overhaul the tax code Wednesday, but it was hard to miss how many times the word “former” was used to describe its members.

Politico reports the effort is headed up by former Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and former White House budget director Alice Rivlin, and included former governors, mayors, senators, congressional staff directors and labor union leaders.

In other words, the group includes none of the current lawmakers and players who are expected to bitterly oppose one or another over the many painful choices that the deficit reduction plan would require, the website notes.

The group, calling itself the Bipartisan Policy Center, offers cuts that go deeper than the Bowles/Simpson plan offered a week ago.The highlights of the proposals include the following:

  • To ensure a more robust recovery, we propose a one-year "payroll tax holiday" for 2011, suspending Social Security payroll taxes for employers and employees. We also would phase in the steps to reduce deficits and debt gradually beginning in 2012, so the economy will be strong enough to absorb them.
  • We would stabilize the debt held by the public at less than 60 percent of gross domestic product, an internationally recognized standard; reduce annual deficits to manageable levels; and balance the "primary" budget (everything other than interest payments) by 2014.
  • We would dramatically simplify the tax system, establishing individual tax rates of 15 and 27% (from the current high of 35), cutting the corporate tax rate to 27% (from 35 today), ending most deductions and credits while simplifying the rest, and ensuring that nearly 90 million households no longer have to file returns. To reduce the debt, we would supplement our spending cuts with a 6.5%"debt-reduction sales tax."
  • We would strengthen Social Security so it can pay benefits for the next 75 years by gradually raising the amount of wages subject to payroll taxes; slightly reducing the growth in benefits for the top 25% of beneficiaries; raising the minimum benefit for long-term, low-wage workers; indexing benefits to life expectancy; and changing the calculation of cost-of-living adjustments to better reflect inflation. We would not raise the age at which senior citizens can begin receiving benefits.
  • We would control health-care costs - the biggest driver of long-term deficits - by reforming Medicare and Medicaid while, starting in 2018, capping and then phasing out the tax exclusion for employer-provided health care. We would reform medical malpractice laws and help address the health costs tied to rising obesity by imposing a tax on high-calorie sodas.
  • We would freeze domestic discretionary spending for four years and defense spending for five, both at 2011 levels, and then limit their future growth to the rate of growth in the economy.
  • Finally, we would cap domestic and defense discretionary spending (with tight exceptions for true emergencies) and trigger across-the-board cuts if the caps are breached; enact a strict pay-as-you-go statutory rule for tax cuts or expansions of entitlements; and enact long-term budgets for major entitlements while creating a Fiscal Accountability Commission that would recommend policy changes every five years if entitlements are exceeding their budgets.
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