Deficit commission: Four things both sides may agree on

Key Democrats and Republicans on the commission voiced agreement on some important things during the panel's public meeting Wednesday.

2. Keeping Social Security separate

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    Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue answers questions during a hearing Nov. 15 in Akron, Ohio.
    Tony Dejak/AP
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Social Security can be cordoned off as a separate problem. The plan orchestrated by commission chairmen Erskine Bowles (D) and Alan Simpson (R) proposes ways to make Social Security solvent for the next 75 years, but keeps these fixes separate from the panel's larger plans for reducing federal deficits. This is important, since Social Security often shows up in government accounts as part of a "unified" federal budget.

The approach could help defuse a volatile issue. It counters any temptation to overdo a fix for Social Security (such as through payroll-tax increases) as a backdoor way to improve the broader budget picture. And it means critics of Social Security can't blame it as part of the nation's general budget problem.

In listing their concerns about the commission's plan, some panel members said they'd tinker with the specific Social Security fixes that Bowles and Simpson offered, but the idea of treating the program separately drew little comment.

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