Simpson, Bowles want deep cuts from debt panel

WASHINGTON (AP) — Four prominent deficit-cutters told Congress’ bipartisan “supercommittee” on Tuesday that they must strike a major debt reduction compromise that both raises revenue and revamps giant benefit programs.

If the two parties prove unwilling to make concessions — with Republicans accepting higher revenues and Democrats backing major overhauls to programs like Medicare — then “they are both complicit in letting America destroy itself,” said Pete Domenici, a former GOP senator from New Mexico who headed the Senate Budget Committee.

Erskine Bowles, who was White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, said the public would reward the lawmakers “if you’re bold and do it in a smart manner” — a euphemism for going well beyond their goal of finding a minimum $1.2 trillion in 10-year savings.

The four budget experts who testified to the budget panel all urged it to go trillions beyond that savings target.

The testimony came with the supercommittee so far showing little sign of making progress toward a bipartisan debt-cutting deal.

The panel has until Nov. 23 — just three weeks away — to recommend its proposals for savings. If it fails or if Congress does not enact a package by Dec.23, $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to defense and many domestic programs would begin in 2013.

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, top Democrat on the supercommittee, said the panel is entering “the final critical phase” of its work and said a failure to find ways to reduce the debt would be unacceptable.

But she warned that both sides have to make compromises — a clear shot at Republicans who so far have been unwilling to accept higher taxes as part of a deal.

“Everyone needs to be putting some real skin in the game and offering serious compromises,” Murray said.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, the supercommittee’s No. 1 Republican, said expensive health programs like Medicare are the top budget problem and said “tinkering around the edges” with those programs would achieve little.

Domenici and Alice Rivlin, a White House budget director under Clinton, produced a bipartisan deficit-cutting plan last year producing trillions in budget savings. Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., wrote a similar package. Both blueprints relied heavily on revenue increases and on savings from benefit programs.

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