Debt Commission Report Flops With Elected Officials, So The President Shouldn’t Feel Bound To It

Today, President Obama’s fiscal commission failed to approve its final proposal, with the report garnering the votes of 11 of the 18 commission members, while needing 14 to advance. However, some of the commission members are making a concerted effort to move the goalposts and spin the commission’s failure to achieve consensus as a victory.

“11 of 18 by my math is 60 percent,” said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) during the commission’s meeting. “In the United States Senate, when you’re facing a filibuster even, 60 percent prevails. So I believe we’ve crossed an important hurdle here and laid out a plan that will be resurrected because it must be.”

Both Conrad and Incoming House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that they would place parts of the plan into the next national budget, while President Obama today released a statement saying that, “The Commission’s majority report includes a number of specific proposals that I — along with my economic team — will study closely in the coming weeks as we develop our budget and our priorities for the coming year.”

But if the point of the commission was to craft a proposal that could actually pass Congress, the fact that it received 11 votes doesn’t mean that it achieved some miraculous bipartisan consensus. Of those 11, 5 were unelected, appointed members, who will not receive a vote in Congress. Another two yes votes came from elected officials who are leaving Congress — Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) is retiring, while Rep. John Spratt (D-SC) was defeated in November.

That leaves just four members of the incoming 112th Congress that approved of the plan. So:

Amongst elected members of Congress, the vote was 6–6.

Amongst elected members of the incoming 112th Congress, the vote was 4–6 AGAINST the plan. Yea: Sens. Kent Conrad (D-ND), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and Mike Crapo (R-ID); Nay: Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Paul Ryan (R-WI), Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Dave Camp (R-MI).

Every member of the House that will be back for the 112th Congress voted AGAINST the plan.

Plus, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) clearly said during the commission’s meeting that if this exact plan were on the Senate floor, he would vote against it. The point of including a supermajority requirement was to demonstrate that a plan could receive wide approval from both parties. Obviously, the nay votes were cast by both progressives and conservatives for a variety of reasons, but if the goal was to craft something that had an actual chance of passing through Congress with bipartisan support, the plan fell far short.


At this point, the idea of outsourcing comprehensive deficit reduction to a commission was tried, without success, and the President shouldn’t feel beholden to including big elements of the commission’s plan in his budget. There are other plans out there — like Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s (D-IL) — that should be taken just as seriously, as they also balance the budget, without relying on the conservative frame that the debt commission’s co-chairs decided upon.