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BOB KERREY SAYS his commission on entitlement reform isn't "a political gesture" that will go nowhere. The new Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement & Tax Reform, which Senator Kerrey (D-Neb.) chairs, aims to make recommendations to cut spending on entitlement programs, such as welfare, Social Security, and Medicare--whose costs climb ever upward. The panel's vice-chairman, Senator John Danforth (R-Mo.), insists "our objective is not just another report."

IN REALITY, the commission is a very political body facing long odds against cutting entitlements. Political because it is a payoff by the Clinton Administration to Kerrey for supplying the crucial vote on the 1993 budget bill that gave the White House a key victory. And of the 32 members, all but five are current or former officeholders. As for delivering a report with real impact, Danforth admits pols fear "the third rail of politics"--curtailing benefits, which most experts deem the solution. In 1989, a similar panel deadlocked after a year of struggle. Only result: the commission's $1 million bill to taxpayers.EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT AND JULIE TILSNER By Paul Magnusson

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