As debt ceiling talks drag on, Illinois Sen. Kirk endorses austere deficit plan

July 5, 2011

By Alex Keefe and The Associated Press

Senator Mark Kirk in his offices on Tuesday. (WBEZ/Kate Dries)

Illinois U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk is endorsing a controversial plan as a way to straighten out the federal budget.

Lawmakers from both parties are clashing over how to raise the nation's debt ceiling ahead of an Aug. 2 deadline. That's when the U.S. Department of the Treasury estimates the federal government will go into default if Congress doesn't raise its borrowing limit.

The Republican Kirk told reporters Tuesday that he supports a proposal from the president's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which outlined more than $4 trillion in deficit reduction measures in December. The plan would raise the retirement age for Social Security, hike gas taxes and impose spending caps. It met criticism from both sides of the aisle and never made it to Congress for a vote.

But Kirk said he could accept a scaled-down version.

"The Senate and the House could go forward on something smaller, as we align the country to the reality that we are spending money that we do not have and need to stop," Kirk said.

Congressional leaders are in the midst of negotiations with the President Barack Obama about raising the nation's debt ceiling. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says Democrats have asked President Barack Obama to meet with them to discuss the situation, after the president rejected a GOP invitation. And Obama's economic team has been invited to Capitol Hill Thursday to look at ways of putting together a package of spending cuts and tax hikes that might resolve the matter.

But Republicans have said that any tax hikes are a non-starter for a resolution.