A bipartisan group of Senators is pledging to hold up a needed increase in the US debt limit – past $12 trillion – if Congress does not create a bipartisan commission with sweeping power to enact deficit reduction measures.
My colleague, ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf has the story from Capitol Hill:
Senators from both parties made their case at press conference Wednesday featuring Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad and ranking Republican Judd Gregg which featured plenty of scary charts and graphs that showed the US is going belly up because of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
That vote on raising the debt above $12.1 trillion will have to occur late this year or early next year, depending on how creative Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner can get with the accounting.
The senators' idea, which still needs buy-in from leaders of both sides of the aisle and the White House, is that debt reduction is too political for politicians to handle and the commission, made up of 10 Democrats (two from the administration) and eight Republicans, would spend next year figuring out a plan to deal with the skyrocketing entitlements, the deficit and the debt.
The proposed commission's recommendations would be made after the November election in 2010 (to take the issue out of the campaign), and then be voted on with a 60-vote threshold, by the lame duck Congress before January 2010.
"We are on a path to bankruptcy as a nation,"said Sen. Kent Conrad.
Conrad said the group has met with President Obama and White House officials to lobby for their proposal, but could not say if they would support it.
"We have to join hands and jump off a cliff together,"said Sen. Judd Gregg.
And senators agreed that both parties are to blame.
"Democrats want to spend more than we can afford, Republicans want to cut more taxes than we can afford,"said Sen. Evan Bayh, a moderate Democrat. "It's got to stop.”
"People look at us and say what are you guys doing,"said an exercised Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, at the press conference. He said the bipartisan commission and agreement not to filibuster were essential to passing any tough deficit reduction measures.
"We're going to vote up or we're going to vote down. No more delay,"said Voinovich."Our credibility, out credit are in danger,"he added, pointing to the reliance of the government on low-rate loans from foreign countries around the world.
It is also notable that neither Voinovich nor Gregg are running for reelection next year. A simple up or down vote on whether to enact the commission's findings would probably be their last act as politicians.