Deficit Commission Shockingly One Vote Away From a Majority


The president's deficit commission is one yes vote away from securing a majority, after nine members of the 18-person panel have committed to vote yes on the bold plan to raise taxes, cut spending and reform entitlements.

That's a surprisingly high number, but not high enough. The commission requires a super-majority of 14 to send its report to Congress for a vote. With three members now pledging or leaning toward a no vote, the commission is in danger of both achieving a bipartisan majority and still coming up short.

The deficit commission is made up of six non-elected presidential appointees, six elected Republicans and six elected Democrats, divided evenly between House and Senate. Here's your unofficial tally:

President's Appointees
Alan Simpson (co-chair; fmr. U.S. Senator) -- Yes
Erskine Bowles (co-chair; fmr. White House Chief of Staff) -- Yes
Dave M. Cote (Honeywell International) -- Yes
Alice Rivlin (Brookings Institution; fmr. director CBO and OMB and Fed vice chair) -- Yes
Ann M. Fudge (fmr. CEO Young & Rubicam Brands) -- Yes
Andy Stern (fmr. president of Service Employees International Union) -- Undecided

House Republicans
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) -- No
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) -- Leaning No/Undecided
Rep. Dave Camp (R-Michigan) -- Undecided

House Democrats
Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.) -- Undecided
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) -- Undecided
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill)  -- No

Senate Republicans
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-New Hampshire) -- Yes
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) -- Yes
Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) -- Yes

Senate Democrats
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota) -- Yes
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) -- Undecided
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana) -- No

It's not surprising that nearly all the president's appointees have voted yes, nor is it terribly surprising that Andy Stern, one of the more liberal members of the presidential appointees, is the sole hold-out. This is is a broad and sweeping centrist plan, but it is arguably a center-right proposal, with its deep spending cuts and its reliance on benefit reduction to close the Social Security shortfall.

It is surprising that four out of six senators, including all three Republican senators, have voted yes, while no House members have currently (as of 3:30PM Thursday) joined them.

An important observation about procedure: The commission is in danger of failing, not because it didn't achieve a majority, but because it set the super-majority bar too high. A senior commission official said the rationale behind the high bar dated back to Sens. Conrad and Gregg, who wanted their own commission to have a high hurdle to guarantee buy-in from both parties in both houses.

The official said he was heartened by the support they had received from those who had committed yes already, including Sen. Coburn's willingness to accept higher taxes on the rich in exchange for spending cuts and Sen. Dick Durbin's acknowledgment in a meeting yesterday that he supported raising the retirement age, even though he knew some on the left would disagree.

Republican Reps. Hensarling and Ryan both said they don't like the plan's approach to health care. The deficit commission does not aggressively transition Medicare into a voucher program, like Paul Ryan proposed in his roadmap. Instead, it strengthens Obama's Affordable Care Act to give delivery system reforms a chance to succeed in the next decade.

Update 1: It's unofficially 9-4, with Democratic Sen. Max Baucus voting no. WSJ quotes: "We cannot cut the deficit at the expense of veterans, seniors, ranchers, farmers and hard-working families."

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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