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Fiscal commission to vote by Friday

From msnbc.com's Tom Curry
The chairmen of the fiscal reform commission appointed by President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that the members of the panel will vote on a final deficit-cutting plan by the end of this week.

“I don’t know if we’re going to get two votes or five votes or 10 votes or 14 votes,” said former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. But the good news, according to Bowles, was that “the era of deficit denial is over.”

He also argued that “regardless of how the vote turns out, we won – and we won big.”

In effect, Bowles was saying the work of the commission was a worthwhile exercise in educating the public about the dangers of the growing national debt, no matter what happens to the plan.

According to the presidential executive order that created the panel, 14 out of its 18 members would need to vote for the recommendations in order for them to be reported to Congress.

The text of the final plan will be released later Tuesday, Bowles told reporters. “We’re putting the final touches on it now.”

He and the commission co-chairman, former Republican Senate Whip Alan Simpson, said the proposal would recommend elimination of tax expenditures, or tax breaks, which cost the Treasury $1.1 trillion a year.

Simpson insisted on calling those provisions “tax earmarks.”

“We don’t use the phrase ‘tax expenditures’ any more – that’s a fake. Tax earmarks are spending by another name… and they just chip away revenue,” Simpson said.

By eliminating tax preferences, “We can broaden the base, simplify the (tax) code, reduce (tax) rates, and pay the deficit down between $80 billion and $180 billion a year, every year,” said Bowles.

Bowles echoed a warning last summer from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that investor doubts about U.S. Treasury bonds might someday cause a fiscal crisis.

“When the markets lose confidence in a country, they act swiftly and they act decisively. Look at Greece, look at Portugal, look at Ireland, look at Spain. If they markets lose confidence in this country and we continue to build up these enormous deficits and debt, they will act swiftly and decisively,” Bowles warned.