They’ve only been serving together since Monday, but Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk have already found something to disagree about: how to reduce the deficit.
In an op-ed in Thursday’s Tribune, Durbin came out in favor of the plan concocted by President Obama’s bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
The plan has been criticized by liberals because it would raise the Social Security age to 68 by 2050. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called that “simply unacceptable.” Conservatives don’t like the plan because it calls for an increase in gasoline taxes and snatching away tax breaks for home mortgage interest. That’s leaving Durbin looking like a lonely man in the middle.
The question my closest political friends are asking is this: Why is a progressive like Dick Durbin voting for this deficit commission report? First, all politicians, left or right, Democrat or Republican, have to acknowledge the deficit crisis our nation faces. Borrowing 40 cents out of every dollar we spend for missiles or food stamps is unsustainable. And being indebted for generations to China and OPEC does not make American a stronger nation.
(The Social Security age needs to be raised. In the 1930s, when Social Security was established, 65 was the average life expectancy, because most Americans worked themselves to an early grave as manual laborers. Now, the average life expectancy is 78. As Durbin points out, there will be special benefits packages for laborers who can’t keep working into their 60s.)
Mark Kirk also disagrees with president’s commission. On the day he was sworn into the Senate, Kirk published his own Tribune op-ed.
“While the chairmen of the president’s bipartisan deficit reduction commission put forward a serious proposal, the commission’s final report appears likely to be far less impressive,” Kirk wrote.
The first bill Kirk introduced in the Senate was the Spending Control Act, which would establish a bipartisan commission that would submit spending decisions to Congress for an up or down vote.
This bill builds on two recent successful examples of our democracy making the right decisions for our long-term future. First, in the 1980s, the bipartisan Grace Commission set the standard for serious oversight by identifying federal spending that would add little to our nation's growth, but much to its debt. Second, the three military base closing commissions showed that bipartisan dignitaries, once given the authority to submit a proposal to Congress for a straight up or down vote, actually cut spending where others failed.
Here’s a Ward Room prediction: neither the president’s plan nor Kirk’s bill will pass. Americans voted for gridlock last month. We’re going to get gridlock -- and a bigger deficit.