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Originally published April 19, 2013 at 7:57 AM | Page modified April 19, 2013 at 11:53 AM

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Simpson and Bowles offer modified budget plan

The chairmen of President Barack Obama's 2010 fiscal commission are wading back into Washington's budget wars with a revised, somewhat milder plan to rein in intractable federal deficits.

Associated Press

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I wrote Simpson and Bowles in as my choices for prez and vice-prez last election... MORE

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WASHINGTON —

The chairmen of President Barack Obama's 2010 fiscal commission are wading back into Washington's budget wars with a revised, somewhat milder plan to rein in intractable federal deficits.

The plan released Thursday by and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles would lop more than $5 trillion from deficits over the upcoming decade when combined with the deficit-cutting steps enacted in fits and starts since his 2010 proposal.

It's unclear what impact the updated plan will have on a capital that's bitterly split over taxes, spending and government debt. The initial Simpson-Bowles plan won warm reviews from deficit hawks but got a chilly reception from Obama and much of the rest of official Washington for its tough mix of tax increases and cuts to benefits programs like Medicare and Social Security.

The revised plan by Simpson and Bowles reveals a familiar mix of revenue collected by cleansing the tax code of deductions, cutting agency budgets and curbing the growth of Social Security and Medicare. It would set a top tax rate of 28 percent, paid for by repealing many itemized deductions, limiting the mortgage interest deduction and would gradually phase out the generous tax break for employer-subsidized health care.

Simpson and Bowles would add $2.5 trillion in new deficit cuts over 2014-2023 on top of about $2.7 trillion estimated to have already been enacted through cuts to agency budgets and January's tax increase on wealthier earners. It assumes $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts imposed for the failure of Washington to replace them are repealed.

The revised blueprint arrives as Washington is familiarly gridlocked over the budget. January's tax deal has stiffened GOP resolve against further tax increases. Obama's recently unveiled plan for lower inflation increases for Social Security recipients - an idea embraced by Bowles and Simpson - has landed with a thud among most Democrats.

Obama and the top GOP negotiator, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, stopped talking after failed talks in 2011 and late last year. It's commonly assumed that the need this summer for must-pass legislation to increase the government's borrowing cap will draw the weary combatants back into negotiations.

The revised Simpson-Bowles plan proposes more than $700 billion in increased taxes over the coming 10 years on top of the $600 billion-plus signed by Obama in January, another $600 billion or so in cuts to Medicare, and deeper cuts to domestic agencies and the Pentagon than proposed by the president.

Simpson and Bowles believe it's crucial to get the government's debt below 70 percent of the size of the economy, something that Obama's budget fails to do.

Obama and Boehner have twice seemed close to a budget bargain, but Boehner walked away from the talks both times after detecting resistance from top Republicans.

"The last two years have been marked by fiscal brinksmanship," Simpson and Bowles said in a statement. "Instead of enacting a comprehensive deficit reduction plan ... policymakers have jumped from crisis to crisis, waiting until the last moment to do the bare minimum to avoid catastrophe."

The original Simpson-Bowles plan arrived in late 2010 after midterm elections in which Republicans took back the House. The new version contains smaller tax increases than called for in the original plan and added greater protections for low-income seniors under plans to curb Social Security cost-of-living increases.

The new plan calls for $385 billion in cuts in agency budgets passed by Congress each year, with more than half coming from the Pentagon.

"We are bearing a disproportionate responsibility for global world peace and I don't think we can afford to be the world's policeman," Bowles said.

It would also gradually increase the Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67, an idea vehemently opposed by Democratic supporters of the program. But the duo believes that seniors need to contribute more toward the benefits they receive from the government.

"Sixty percent of the nation's budget in some way is going to people over 60," Simpson said Friday.

The duo would cut $585 billion from health-care spending, including requiring more affluent seniors pay more for their Medicare benefits, an idea that has backing by both Democrats and Republicans but has never come to pass. They would also cut farm subsidies significantly more than either Republicans controlling the House or the Democratic-led Senate.

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