By Colby Itkowitz, The Morning Call
WASHINGTON — Republican Charlie Dent and Democrat Allyson Schwartz were among just 38 U.S. House members to support a budget plan modeled after the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan.
Presented as a bipartisan alternative to a plan by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the bill that Dent and Schwartz voted for called for reducing the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years through a combination of spending cuts and new tax dollars.
It was the first time the ideas from President Obama's bipartisan fiscal commission, chaired by former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and Erskine Bowles, chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, were voted on in Congress. The plan was unveiled more than a year ago.
The support of only 16 Republicans and 22 Democrats was a disappointment to the bill's congressional sponsors, who viewed the Simpson-Bowles approach as the only hope for a budget to pass both House and Senate.
The outcome did validate the White House, which never pressed for a vote on the Simpson-Bowles plan, sensing little appetite for it. Others say the White House missed an opportunity to rally support for it.
Other Pennsylvanians who voted for the plan include Republicans Patrick Meehan (7th District) and Todd Platts (19th District) and Democrat Chaka Fattah (2nd District).
Simpson-Bowles proposes cutting tax rates for individuals, small businesses and corporations, and reduces tax breaks. It also aims at strengthening Social Security using Simpson-Bowles' ideas that included increasing the payroll tax and raising the retirement age.
Simpson and Bowles in a statement said the bill puts "the national interest ahead of partisan interests by offering this bold fiscal plan that takes on the sacred cows of both sides and calls for the kind of broad-based reform that we simply must have if we are to avoid a [fiscal] crisis."
The bill was the basic framework supported in a letter signed by 100 lawmakers during the so-called "supercommittee" talks. The letter called on the 12 supercommittee members to "go big" and cut the federal debt by $4 trillion, rather than $1.2 trillion. Dent and Schwartz both signed that letter. The supercommittee ultimately failed to agree on any plan.
Dent said he was "bewildered" by the lack of support for the plan, but said many lawmakers flinched under pressure from outside groups.
"We can't retreat to our partisan corners, [we all] have do some things we'd rather not do. There's going to be shared sacrifice here. Both political parties," Dent said. "I think we all know the need for real spending reform and tax reform."
Dent represents the Lehigh Valley on Capitol Hill. Schwartz's seat is based in Montgomery County.
U.S. Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, one of the sponsors of the measure, called those who voted for the bill "brave."
"Americans are screaming for us to take off our red jerseys on this side, to take off the blue jerseys on that side, and put on the red, white and blue jerseys of the United States of America," LaTourette said on the House floor. "Our proposal, inspired by the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission [and] authorized by the president … has been viciously attacked from the left and the right, and so I think ... we're on to something."
On Thursday afternoon, the House passed Ryan's budget, which also would trim the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years. The vote followed party lines with nearly every Republican, including Dent, for it, and every Democrat against.
The Ryan proposal makes changes to Medicare. It has no chance of advancing in the U.S. Senate.