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By Tim Leeds 

Sen. Baucus confident debt reduction plan will pass


Montana's senior Sen. Max Baucus said in a press conference Wednesday that he is optimistic that the committee charged with reducing federal spending can make its Nov. 23 deadline.

"I think there's an excellent chance, " said Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee and one of the three Senate Democrats on the committee.

Baucus said the work of the 12-member committee, set to reduce federal spending by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years, mostly is being done behind closed doors to promote success in its mission and trust between the members. He said everything is being looked at, including tax increases and cuts in spending, implying that even changes to Medicare and Social Security could be part of the mix.

The committee was created out of negotiations over the summer first to pass a budget, then to raise the debt limit. The law passed to raise the debt limit, allowing the country to continue to borrow money to pay its bills, created the committee, with three Republicans and three Democrats from each house of Congress.

The committee has until Nov. 23 to come up with ways to reduce national spending by at least $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, which Congress then will have to pass with an up-or-down vote by Christmas with no changes.

If Congress does not pass a proposal, automatic across-the-board cuts reducing federal spending by $1.2 trillion will be made.

Baucus said committee members realize the gravity of their task and are working to find ways to meet the goal.

"It's a real opportunity to show the country that Congress can get its act together, " he added, saying the committee can do work that is real, is meaningful, and "get it done. "

When asked about the committee doing much of its work behind closed doors, rather than in public sessions, Baucus said the major work — including all votes — would be done in public.

Part of the early work of the committee was getting to know each other — the co-chairs, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Jeb Heberling, R-Texas, had never met, Baucus said — and building trust. Another is avoiding pressure from special interest groups during negotiations and debate, he said.

"Once (an idea) is in the public domain interest groups jump all over it, " he said.

Baucus said the committee will continue to hold public hearings — one or possibly more is likely to be held next week — and all major votes will be held in public sessions.

"We're doing our best to do what's right, and what's right is a balanced budget, " he added.

When asked if changes to Social Security and Medicare could be part of the proposal, Baucus would commit to nothing except reducing the national debt.

"If we do this, we will be stronger and then Medicare (and Social Security) will be stronger, " he said.

Baucus said he hears continually from Montanans that they want the debt reduction to be fair and balanced that all should share in the solution. While, he said, older Montanans and all Americans should be concerned about protecting their benefits, they also want the solution to be fair.

"I think most people want to find a balanced solution. That certainly is my goal …, " he said. "My job is to make sure Medicare, Social Security, our whole country is strong. "

He said all areas, cuts and revenues, are being discussed and comments that some ideas — including tax revenues — have been shot down are premature.

"This is a tough job, " Baucus said. "We are talking about lots of options … cutting spending and raising revenue. There are no decisions made. "

He said all committee members are working toward the solution.

"In all efforts like this, which in some sense is negotiation, there are setbacks, " he said, adding for every step backward there seems to be two forward, although there are disagreements between members.

"I'm not implying bitterness or rancor, there is not, " he said. "I'm very impressed with the positive tone. "

He said he disagrees with people who say the committee will not be able to make its Nov. 23 deadline, adding that the group is regularly sending proposals to the congressional services to find what the impacts would be, often retooling them once the analysis comes back.

"I think there's an excellent chance, " Baucus said. "I think there will be an agreement. "


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