Commission sets stage for 2011 budget debate
The stage is set for next year's budget-resolution debate, as the leadership of President Obama's deficit commission expects that many of the panel's recommendations will make it into the House's spending blueprint.
Even though the 18-member commission's plan failed to win the 14 votes needed for approval and the panel adjourned Friday morning without a formal vote, the commission was able to trumpet that 11 members agreed to ratify the sweeping combination of tax-rate restructuring and social-safety-net cuts. None of the five House members on the commission voted to approve the proposal, but Erskine Bowles, the commission's Democratic co-chairman, expects the House budget to reflect a large portion of the commission's plan.
"Paul Ryan said 85 percent of what we proposed is going to be in his budget; it doesn't get any better than that," Bowles said. Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who will chair the House Budget Committee next year, did not support the commission's plan.
Bowles also said that commission members have built working relationships that he believes will bear legislative fruit. He was chief of staff in the Clinton White House and worked on a 1997 agreement that helped balance the budget.
"This was a nonpartisan activity. I spent as much time with Tom Coburn as I did Dick Durbin. And they worked together…. That is what made this, unfortunately, unique," Bowles said. "But I think these relationships and this trust has been established. This is exactly what we did in 1997.… We got to a bipartisan conclusion that did balance the federal budget, and I think this is the first step in that effort."
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said he hopes that Congress and the White House set up a budget summit similar to the series of negotiations that took place in 1997.
A commission aide said that he expects the plan, or elements of it, will likely play a part in the debate to raise the debt limit, which the nation will hit in the next six months.
"I think that's the primary vehicle," the aide said. "But I think the other thing that keeps it alive in the next few years" are the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.
Democrats, Republicans, and the White House are negotiating an extension of the cuts, which expire at the end of the month.
President Obama, on a surprise trip to Afghanistan, issued a statement that thanked the commission for its work but did not endorse -- or reject -- its plan. He said he had invited the commission to meet with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew.
"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," Obama said.
Several commission members, including some who opposed the plan, said they hoped Congress would debate and vote on the proposal this year.
"There is no reason Harry Reid and John Boehner shouldn't schedule a vote" on the plan," Andy Stern, the former head of the Service Employees International Union, who opposed the proposal as a member of the commission, said in an interview. "The time for fiscal wandering is over."
Asked if he believed that the plan would come to a congressional vote, Stern replied, "Well, I didn't think this would ever get 11 votes" on the commission.
Former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., Bowles's co-chairman and someone long-famous for his wit and colorful aphorisms, summed up the proceedings in a way only he could: "We took a big banana and threw it into the gorilla cage," he said. "The gorilla has picked it up like they do, peeled it, mashed it, and played with it, and they will eat some. And that's where we are right now. Pieces will be digested and nourish this country."
Katy O'Donnell and Ben Terris contributed to this report.