Conrad Says Debt Panel Lacks Votes to Approve Plan

U.S. Senator Kent Conrad said he doesn’t think there are enough votes to send a plan created by the chairmen of President Barack Obama’s debt-reduction commission to Congress.

“I frankly never thought we’d get 14” votes needed on the 18-member panel to forward the proposal to Congress, Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat who heads the Senate Budget Committee, said on Bloomberg Television today. The panel plans to vote tomorrow on the revised $3.8 trillion savings plan.

Prospects for panel approval are dim even as concern mounts over the U.S.’s $13.7 trillion national debt and $1.3 trillion deficit this year. Republicans will take control of the House in January, making a political agreement with Obama and the Democratic-dominated Senate less likely.

Conrad, a commission member who has said he’ll vote yes, said the plan’s “enormous impact” has been on shaping the congressional debate on lowering the federal debt.

Still, Congress must overcome political barriers to enact a debt-reduction plan, Conrad said.

“The greatest threat to our long-term economic security is this debt threat that’s hanging over the country,” he said. “It’s time to act.”

The plan released yesterday would reduce income tax rates, limit or eliminate tax breaks, and impose spending caps and salary freezes on the federal government. Similar to a draft version released Nov. 10, it recommends cutting Social Security and Medicare and declaring a payroll tax holiday.

‘Small Changes’

Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat on the commission, said she will vote against the new proposal because it contained only “very small changes” from the previous draft.

A Republican commission member, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has said he opposes the plan because it doesn’t do enough to address rising health-care costs, a concern also expressed by his commission colleague, Republican Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas.

Joining Conrad in approving the plan will be Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the budget panel’s ranking Republican.

Plan supporters also include commission member David Cote, chairman of Honeywell International Inc.; Ann Fudge, former chief executive officer of Young & Rubicam Inc.; former Congressional Budget Office Director Alice Rivlin and the commission’s co-chairmen, Erskine Bowles, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, and Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming.