WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama's budget deficit commission failed to garner enough support Friday to prompt quick congressional action on its austere spending blueprint.
But the support of a bipartisan majority of the panel should give it momentum.
Commission members said that by winning over 11 of the 18 panelists, they had defied expectations. They said it showed that Washington is capable of having an "adult conversation" on a bipartisan basis about the painful choices required to avert a European-style debt crisis.
Devout Senate conservatives Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., joined with close Obama allies Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Kent Conrad, D-N.D., in support of the plan. Panel members said the commission's work has fundamentally changed the national debate on the deficit.
The plan received "aye" votes from five of six senators who served on the 18-member panel, chaired by former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson of the GOP.
Obama was more measured, praising the commission for its work and promising to closely study its proposals. He said the nation faces "difficult choices to curb runaway debt."
"We cannot afford to fall back on old ideologies, and we will all have to budge on long-held positions," Obama said in a statement.
Five of six House lawmakers on the panel voted "nay" to deny it the 14 votes needed to officially deliver it to Congress for a speedy vote. The plan would slash $4 trillion from the budget over the coming decade through a combination of tax increases and painful spending cuts - including an increase in the Social Security retirement age and lower cost-of-living increases for the program. Deficits over the period are estimated in the $10 trillion range and are expected to require the federal government to borrow 33 cents of every dollar it spends.
"The Bowles-Simpson plan further erodes the middle class and threatens low-income Americans," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.
Rep. John Spratt Jr., D-S.C. - who lost a re-election bid last month - was the only House member to endorse the plan, but quipped, "Thank God I'm not running again." That registered, especially with Conrad, who faces a potentially difficult re-election bid in deeply Republican North Dakota.
"We have changed the issue from whether there should even be a fiscal plan for this country to 'what is the best fiscal plan for this country,' " said former Service Employees Union International president Andy Stern, who opposed the plan but praised its goals. He said that is an enormous shift.
Among its many contentious provisions, the plan would raise the Social Security retirement age and scale back popular tax deductions on health insurance and mortgage interest.
Bowles and Simpson have labored on the deficit issue for months, keeping all but the most partisan members involved in the commission's work. Gaining the support of Durbin, a key Obama ally, was a major development.
"Today, with my vote, I'm claiming a seat at the table," Durbin said, adding that he saw the measure more as a starting point for next year's debate.
But all three House Republicans on the panel voted against the plan, as did liberal Democrats Schakowsky and Xavier Becerra of California. So did Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.
Durbin raised eyebrows Wednesday when he endorsed gradually raising the full Social Security retirement age from 67 to 69 over the next 65 years, and he resisted heavy pressure from labor unions and others in backing the plan.
Besides increasing the Social Security retirement age, the plan calls for reducing future increases to benefits in order to help control federal spending. It would eliminate or scale back tax breaks - including the child tax credit, mortgage interest deduction and deduction claimed by employers who provide health insurance - in exchange for rate cuts on corporate and income taxes.
It would raise the federal gasoline tax 15 cents a gallon to fund transportation programs. It would also nearly freeze the Pentagon budget and cut outright the budgets for most domestic agencies. But it largely leaves alone Obama's health care overhaul bill and Republicans say it falls short of tackling the unsustainable growth of Medicare and Medicaid, the federal health care programs for the elderly and the poor.
The plan, which was unveiled Wednesday, brought criticism from advocates on the left - over cuts to Social Security and other programs - and conservatives who oppose its estimated $1 trillion or so in higher tax revenues over the coming decade.
Simpson warned those panelists who are elected members of Congress that they will face "slash and burn" tactics from the "zealots and their minions."
"But remember this, many of them were the same cynics who chuckled and broke out the champagne when we began our work," Simpson said. "And they ain't laughing now."
Baucus announced Thursday he couldn't support it. He said the plan "would cut pensions for military members, lower Social Security payments, raise the retirement age and limit Medicare benefits."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)