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McConnell’s office said it was eager to see something. “We are eager to hear the administration’s specific plans for protecting jobs and growth while reducing the national debt through strengthening the entitlement system, reducing Washington spending and preventing a tax hike on every American taxpayer,” McConnell spokesman John Ashbrook said in a statement. “As Sen. McConnell made clear: ‘We can do this. But the president has to lead. That’s the issue here. It’s that simple.’”
That would seem to leave Simpson and Bowles, who have been making the rounds in Washington hard of late, out in the cold despite the fact that they’re being held up as standard-bearers of bipartisanship.
“They’re red-hot right now. Members want their pictures taken with them,” said Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., an early and ardent evangelist for the Bowles-Simpson plan.
Cooper met with the duo Wednesday afternoon along with a bipartisan group of legislators, many of whom were among the 38 members who voted for a budget modeled after Bowles-Simpson. Those members call themselves the “Brave 38.”
On Wednesday, Bowles and Simpson also held a press availability with House Democratic leaders, and Bowles met behind closed doors with Republican House leaders and a group of CEOs dedicated to debt reduction.
Bowles acknowledged the plan he and Simpson labored over in 2010 and are still touting is a tough sell on Capitol Hill. Coming out of his meeting with GOP leaders, he said the plan’s ideals are more important than the specifics.
“I think a balanced approach is a good starting point, and that’s what we’ve got to have. What we put out was a balanced approach, but it’s only one plan. There are lots of ways to get there,” he said. “I think if you ask anybody, from the minority leader to the speaker, if there are more people that favor the kind of balanced approach that we presented, they say, ‘Yes.’”
The problem remains, however, that while most lawmakers are calling for a balanced deal, they back away at the mention of specifics, said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.
“Their plan has lots to criticize, but it has the one structural approach that everyone knows ultimately will be necessary,” Welch said. “The challenge now is to get specific.”
Bowles said that he sees no give from Democrats in the area of entitlement reform and similarly none from Republicans in raising tax rates.
Still, Cooper said the chances that a Bowles-Simpson type of plan can pass have “gone up dramatically,” saying “the whole world has changed,” since he and Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, R-Ohio, brought the budget to the floor.
“Simpson and Bowles were never wedded to every detail of their plan,” he said. “For the rest of us, it’s one of the few bipartisan ways to solve the problem.”
The four closed-door meetings on Thursday take place one day after Obama delivered remarks at the White House about the negotiations and a day before he hits the road to hold a campaign-style event in Pennsylvania to tout middle-class tax cuts.
“If both parties agree we should not raise taxes on middle-class families, let’s begin our work with where we agree,” Obama said Wednesday.