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Majority on deficit panel expected to back its recommendations

A majority of members of the bipartisan deficit commission are expected to endorse the panel’s final recommendations Friday morning, though likely fall short of the supermajority required to guarantee a vote in the Congress.

The commission, created in February by President Obama to offer a blueprint for austerity measures and reforms with the goal of slashing the deficit in half this decade, released its final report Wednesday after months of deliberations of the 18 members.

Of that number, it appeared 11 were set to endorse the plan, while five have publicly committed to rejecting the recommendations and others remained undecided.

Fourteen votes are required to spur Congress to action. But panelists, including those who plan to vote no, have said that significant portions of the final report could still reach Congress in 2011.

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“A majority of members of the commission will support the report. I also believe it will be a bipartisan majority -- a strong bipartisan majority,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who endorsed the plan in Friday’s Chicago Tribune, said in an interview Thursday. “That’s a breakthrough. That’s never happened before. And I hope it becomes a starting point for an honest, bipartisan debate on this.”

Members expect that the support of both Durbin, a key ally of President Obama and the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, and Republicans like Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a staunch fiscal conservative, do ensure a broad spectrum of support.

“This plan will not just avert a disaster, but help drive the kind of economic recovery we need to create jobs and spur growth,” Coburn said in a joint statement with fellow Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho.

But all three elected Republicans in the House, two of whom will hold key leadership posts, are expected to vote as a bloc against it. Rep. Paul R. Ryan of Wisconsin, who will chair the House Budget Committee in the 112th Congress, raised concerns specifically that the plan would lead to implementation of a public healthcare option.

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Recommendations in the plan, entitled, “The Moment of Truth,” include a cap on discretionary spending through 2020, an overhaul of the tax code and reforms to Social Security.

The White House has remained silent since the report was issued Wednesday. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has said Obama would wait until Friday morning’s vote before weighing in.

Durbin said Obama had not been briefed on the plan when he raised it with him Wednesday. He suspected that the president would embrace it, however.

“I think he’s likely to say what I’m going to say: I don’t agree with everything in it, but I salute the commission for an honest analysis of our fiscal crisis, and an honest approach to solving it,” Durbin said. “Now we’ve got to take that message and build on it in a bipartisan way, the way this commission did.”

Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R- Wyoming), who co-chairs the commission with former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, has said that with or without 14 votes, the expectation that lawmakers will be required to raise the nation’s debt limit next spring will ensure that the panel’s recommendations live on.

A new Republican majority that owes its success in part to “tea party” activism will be reluctant to endorse a higher limit without strong action to reduce the deficit.

Commission aides also say that both parties would look to the report’s proposal on tax reform as they seek to move beyond the current debate on Bush-era tax cuts.

michael.memoli@latimes.com


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