WASHINGTON — A co-chairman of President Obama’s fiscal commission told members of a powerful Congressional panel on deficit reduction Tuesday that he feared they would fail, and he said the consequences of such failure could be calamitous.
Four experts on fiscal policy — two Democrats and two Republicans — told the panel that Congress should reduce the budget deficit by adopting spending cuts and increases in tax revenues.
One co-chairman of the president’s fiscal commission, Erskine B. Bowles, said he had great respect for each member of the committee, but added, “I am worried you’re going to fail — fail the country.”
Former Senator Alan K. Simpson, the other co-chairman of the commission, denounced Grover G. Norquist, the conservative antitax advocate, and AARP, the lobby for older Americans, saying both were obstructing efforts to reduce the deficit.
Mr. Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, said that Mr. Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, a taxpayer advocacy group, had people “in thrall” to him.
The group says that 41 senators and more than 235 House members have pledged in writing to oppose all tax increases.
In addition, Mr. Simpson said that AARP was blocking needed changes in Medicare and Social Security. He described a recent AARP advertisement as “the most disgusting ad I’ve ever seen.”
If Congress buckles to pressure from Mr. Norquist and AARP, Mr. Simpson said, “we haven’t got a prayer, and neither have you.”
The other witnesses at a Congressional hearing on Tuesday — former Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, and Alice M. Rivlin, the first director of the Congressional Budget Office — said Congress must rein in the growth of entitlement programs, especially Medicare, and find additional tax revenues.
Those who would cut the deficit exclusively by one means or the other, Mr. Domenici said, are “complicit in letting America destroy itself, letting this great democracy destroy itself.”
The hearing was held amid doubts about whether the 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction would meet a statutory deadline of Nov. 23 for recommending ways to reduce deficits by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years.
After the hearing ended, Representative Jeb Hensarling, Republican of Texas and co-chairman of the select committee, sounded as skeptical as ever about Democrats’ demands for additional tax revenues.
“The focus on revenues is a diversion from the real source of the problem, and that is health care spending,” Mr. Hensarling said. “Unless we fundamentally, structurally reform our health care programs, everything else we do is tinkering around the edges.”
Mr. Bowles, speaking for himself and Mr. Simpson, outlined a package that he said could reduce deficits by $2.6 trillion over 10 years. The package includes $800 billion of new revenue, $300 billion in savings from annual appropriations known as discretionary spending, $600 billion from health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid, $300 billion from other entitlement programs and $200 billion from use of a less generous formula to calculate cost-of-living adjustments in Social Security and other benefits.
If Congress made these changes, Mr. Bowles said, the government would not need to borrow as much, so projected interest payments on the debt would be reduced by $400 billion.
Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington and co-chairwoman of the select Congressional committee, said the panel was “entering the critical final phase” of its work.
“Now is the time when everyone needs to be putting some real skin in the game and offering serious compromises,” Mrs. Murray said. “Democrats have made clear we are prepared to do that. We’ve said we are very open to painful concessions and compromises if Republicans are as well, and we have put forward serious ideas that reflect this.”
Ms. Rivlin and Mr. Domenici, the co-chairmen of a study group formed by the private Bipartisan Policy Center, proposed a major change: The traditional government-run Medicare program would compete directly with private health plans. The government would make a fixed payment on behalf of each beneficiary. The federal contribution would be tied to the cost of traditional Medicare or the second-cheapest private health plan in area, whichever was lower.
Mr. Bowles, who was chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, said Tuesday that Congress should run an experiment testing the feasibility of converting Medicaid to a lump-sum block grant in 10 states. The program is now an open-ended entitlement, with the federal government generally paying a share of whatever states spend on services for low-income people.
All four witnesses said Congress should devise a “grand bargain” involving tax and entitlement changes to reduce deficits by $4 trillion over 10 years.
Of this amount, Mr. Bowles suggested, $1 trillion should be additional revenue. Mr. Bowles said the committee could not rewrite the tax code or overhaul entitlement programs in three weeks. The panel, he said, should delegate the work to the tax-writing committees of Congress.
All the witnesses said they favored requiring higher-income Medicare beneficiaries to pay more for their health insurance.
Affluent beneficiaries are already required to pay higher premiums, exceeding $300 a month in some cases.
Mr. Simpson said co-payments charged to beneficiaries would “have to go up.”
In addition, Mr. Bowles said, “I could support raising the eligibility age for Medicare, since we have other coverage available through the Affordable Care Act” of 2010.