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Deficit commission co-chairs unveil recommendations

The dramatic recommendations laid out today by President Obama's debt commission -- to slash spending and eliminate popular tax deductions -- are merely a draft proposal by the commission co-chairs, but they underscore the scope of changes required to bring the deficit back to acceptable levels.

As co-chair Alan Simpson, a former GOP senator, put it: "We have harpooned every whale in the ocean and some of the minnows."

The recommendations:
-- Social Security: smaller cost of living benefits, a gradual increase in retirement age, higher payroll taxes for upper-income Americans.
-- Dramatic tax reform: to broaden the base and lower rates, while wiping out or scaling back most tax breaks, including reducing the mortgage deduction
-- Significant spending cuts in almost all functions of government.

Something of this magnitude is expected to be dead on arrival with most Democratic and Republican elected officials on the commission, who oppose either the spending cuts or tax increases. Still, the commission has until Dec. 1 to try to reach agreement on something -- perhaps a more limited set of spending cuts.

Indeed, as the New York Times notes, "Should the package of proposals fall short of the necessary 14 votes in the deficit commission [out of 18], as many people expect, proponents of deficit reduction, including some administration officials, hope that at least some of its recommendations could be the basis of efforts to pare deficits once the economy fully recovers."

*** UPDATE *** White House spokesman Bill Burton offers this response to the recommendations: "The President will wait until the bipartisan fiscal commission finishes its work before commenting. He respects the challenging task that the Co-Chairs and the Commissioners are undertaking and wants to give them space to work on it. These ideas, however, are only a step in the process towards coming up with a set of recommendations and the President looks forward to reviewing their final product early next month."