* Republican plan sees tax reform helping economy
* Republican, Democrat plans seen as political insurance
* Boehner says deal "going to take a lot more work"
By Donna Smith and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON, Oct 27 U.S. Republicans proposed a
$2.2 trillion deficit reduction plan heavy on spending cuts and
light on tax increases that highlighted a yawning divide with
Democrats over how to ease the country's huge debt burden.
The Republican plan was presented at a closed-door session
on Wednesday of a congressional "super committee" that has been
tasked with finding at least $1.2 trillion in cuts over 10
years, congressional aides told Reuters on Thursday.
With the panel facing a looming Nov. 23 deadline, the plans
unveiled by Republican members of the committee, and their
Democratic counterparts on Tuesday, failed to narrow partisan
differences over the contentious issue of taxes and appeared to
do little to advance negotiations.
Instead, Republicans and Democrats traded barbs over their
competing plans. A Democratic aide called the Republican
initiative a "joke," while Republican aides called the
Democratic offer "not serious."
The Republican plan proposes cutting $500 billion from the
Medicare health insurance program for retirees, in part by
raising premiums, congressional aides said. It would also cut
$185 billion from the Medicaid health plan for the poor and
$100 billion from other healthcare programs.
It includes a tax overhaul that would close loopholes and
breaks for targeted industries, but those savings would be used
to lower overall tax rates. Republicans say that approach would
generate hundreds of billions of dollars in tax revenue from
the increased economic growth that would presumably follow.
The Republican plan and the $3 trillion Democratic
proposal, which is split almost evenly between spending cuts
and tax increases, were expected to be discussed at a meeting
of the super committee on Thursday.
Analysts said that by offering competing plans, the two
sides are laying the groundwork to blame each other should the
committee fail and $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts are
triggered, beginning in 2013.
"All this is a form of political insurance," said Steve
Bell of the Bipartisan Policy Center. "They are taking
insurance out in case the super committee is perceived as a
CONSEQUENCES OF FAILURE
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top U.S.
Republican, said on Thursday it was important for the super
committee to achieve success but acknowledged "it's going to
take a lot more work."
A New York Times/CBS News poll this week showing that only
9 percent of Americans approve of Congress. Many lawmakers face
re-election in the congressional and presidential elections set
for November 2012.
"There's a better than 50-50 chance they'll get something
together because they have to," said John Feehery, a political
strategist and former Republican congressional leadership aide.
"Politically, Congress needs a big win."
Boehner said the focus of deficit reduction efforts should
be almost exclusively on cutting benefit programs.
"When you look at what is yet to be done by the super
committee, almost all of that is going to fall in the area, I
think, of mandatory spending, which is more than two thirds of
the budget," he told reporters.
Mandatory programs range from Medicare and Medicaid to the
Social Security retirement plan and food stamp program for the
poor. It also includes federal workers' pension plans.
If the committee fails to agree on a deal, it would
compound worries by credit rating agencies that Washington is
incapable of addressing long-term fiscal imbalances that are
projected to grow as the baby boom generation born between 1946
and 1964 retires and draws on Medicare and Social Security
Credit agencies have threatened to lower the stellar U.S.
bond rating if lawmakers fail to significantly cut deficits.
Such a move could push up interest rates throughout the U.S.
economy and reverberate through global markets.
Standard & Poor's cut the U.S.'s AAA rating by one notch in
August after a bruising fight between Republicans and Democrats
over raising the U.S. debt limit.