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Deficit commission members call for action

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Uproar over deficit commission findings
  • The U.S. debt is above $13 trillion
  • A draft recommendation by the deficit commission wants a $4 trillion reduction by 2020
  • The debt must be reduced if the U.S. wants to remain an economic power, senator says

Washington (CNN) -- If the United States is to remain a preeminent economic power, it will have to swallow a strong dose of fiscal belt-tightening to ease the country's staggering deficit, two members of President Barack Obama's deficit commission said Sunday.

A list of draft recommendations presented by the commission stated a goal of reducing the debt by $4 trillion by 2020. Among the ideas proposed to accomplish this are cuts to Social Security and Medicare, as well as tax increases.

"A certain amount of this is shock therapy," Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, said Sunday on ABC's "This Week." Conrad is a member of the bipartisan commission and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

"There are different options, and of course what everyone is fastened on is the most extreme of the options. The important thing for people to know is that we are borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend, that's utterly unsustainable. It can't continue much longer," he said.

While it remains unknown what the final commission report will look like or whether it can muster the 14 votes needed to move it to Congress for consideration, the senator defended the call for action.

Government spending is at its highest level as a share of the economy in 60 years, Conrad said. At the same time, revenue is at its lowest in 60 years, and the total U.S. debt is above $13 trillion.

"It's critically important that we (act), or we will become a second-rate economic power. That is the hard reality," he said.

The commission's draft recommendations, which list actions to tackle the issue from both sides of the ledger, has drawn criticism from both liberals and conservatives. Conservatives are upset about the proposed increases in taxes, which they oppose, while liberals have objected to its proposals to increase the retirement age and limit increases in Social Security benefits.

But another member of the commission, Honeywell chairman and CEO David Cote, told ABC that action on debt reduction should happen before the problem grows.

"In my view, democracy seems to be uniquely suited to putting a traffic light up after the fourth accident. We can't wait for the fourth accident here," he said.

As a CEO and member of the commission, Cote said he was "scared" that he didn't realize the extent of the country's deficit woes.

"I could see where it was today, but I couldn't see what was going to happen in the next 10 years, because people want to point to stuff like Obamacare, stimulus, Bush tax cuts. And the thing that everybody misses is that it's my generation, the baby boomers, who are going to flow through Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. It's going to crush the system," he said.

He continued, "I think the American public is ready for this discussion, but I don't see anybody having that discussion with them, and that needs to happen."

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said on CNN's "State of the Union" that the Obama administration will have to set an example for reducing debt.

"I think that start has to start not only with the recommendation of the debt commission, but also the president's budget," Cornyn said, referring to the budget Obama must present in February. "That's the blueprint that should lay this out and we'll have to see what kind of commitment President Obama and his administration will make to cutting spending and dealing with this unsustainable debt."

Also appearing on "State of the Union," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, said, "I actually give the budget commission a lot of credit for putting out some hard choices. It's kind of where the reality meets the campaign rhetoric about deficit reduction."