Business to US deficit panel: tackle taxes, Medicare

Tue Aug 16, 2011 6:42pm EDT

* Chamber wants cut to corporate tax rate

* Says health, retirement spending "out of control"

WASHINGTON Aug 16 (Reuters) - A big business group on Tuesday urged lawmakers on a deficit-cutting panel to revamp the U.S. tax code and health and retirement programs as they go about their task of finding $1.2 trillion in savings.

The 12-member panel, dubbed the "super committee," was formed as part of a deal struck between Republicans and President Barack Obama earlier this month in exchange for lawmakers raising the government's borrowing authority.

Pressure is mounting on the committee from interest groups seeking to protect their slice of the federal budget pie. The panel is due to make its recommendations by Nov. 23.

"We believe that enhancing economic and job growth is a prerequisite for achieving these goals, but growth alone will not be enough," Chamber of Commerce executive Bruce Josten said in a letter to the 12 lawmakers on the committee.

"Congress must reform entitlement programs and fundamentally restructure the U.S. tax code to bring revenue and spending back into alignment," the letter said.

The Chamber of Commerce is the biggest U.S. business lobby and comprises many Fortune 500 companies.

Congress must vote on the budget panel's recommendations by Dec. 23. If a deal is not passed, $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts will be triggered.

In the tortuous debt ceiling negotiations, Republican and Democratic lawmakers failed to reach agreement on revamping the tax code, Social Security, the federal retirement program, and Medicare, the healthcare program for the elderly.

Josten said spending on these programs, often referred to as "entitlements" is "out of control."

Republicans have largely opposed any new taxes, or new revenue, though there has been some softening of rhetoric in recent days as polls show Americans increasingly frustrated with lawmakers' inability to deal with deficits.

Corporate America has long sought cuts to business tax rates -- now topping out at 35 percent.

Democrats agree the corporate rate is too high compared to other countries, but want to close tax breaks to help fund a lower rate.

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