By Ray Henry
Leaders in the U.S. Senate do not support a bipartisan plan to reduce national deficits because it would involve a series of "tough" votes, Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss said Monday.
Chambliss is part of a group of lawmakers called the "Gang of Six" who support a plan to cut deficits by roughly $4 trillion over the coming decade. The plan put forward last year required an increase in revenue -- or tax increases, according to opponents -- and spending cuts. It would target popular tax breaks that benefit millions of people -- perks that promote health insurance, home ownership and charitable giving -- in return for lower tax rates.
"Leadership on both sides has not been a real fan of our plan," Chambliss said during an appearance at the Atlanta Press Club. He said Democratic Sen. Harry Reid wants to remain Senate majority leader, while Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell hopes to take that leadership post if the GOP wins a majority.
If Senate leaders forced a vote on the plan, it would require lawmakers to make choices that could well prove unpopular with their constituents back home. For example, Chambliss said the federal Medicare program, which provides health insurance for those with disabilities and people age 65 and over, will need to be fundamentally changed to save money.
"And if the Gang of Six plan does come up, and there is a chance it might, there are going to have to be some hard and tough votes made," Chambliss said.
The proposal would raise $1.2 trillion in new taxes by eliminating loopholes strewn throughout the tax code. But Chambliss acknowledged that it was unlikely that Congress would ever totally eliminate tax breaks rewarding charitable giving or allowing people who pay interest on home mortgages to pay less in taxes.
He said lawmakers could still allow for some tax incentives that encourage people to buy first or even second homes, though weakening the original plan would result in less deficit reduction.
"I think they're too popular," Chambliss told reporters, speaking about the tax breaks for charitable giving and mortgage interest. "I think it would just be difficult -- it's one of those difficult votes I was talking about earlier that people are probably not going to be willing to make."