The original plan to pass a deficit commission through Congress didn't work, so President Obama decided to do it himself: today he signed an executive order creating a deficit commission through his own executive authority.
It will be made up of both Democrats and Republicans: six members appointed by the president, not more than four from the same party; three my the Senate majority leader and three by the minority leader; three by the House speaker and three by the House minority leader. Much like the proposed commission that failed in the Senate in January, this one will produce a report on how to address the deficit.
But there's one important difference: Obama's commission doesn't have quite the same teeth.
The proposal by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) would have required the commission to vote not only on a report with suggestions, but an actual bill that would address the deficit--that is to say, actual legislation that would presumably either cut spending or raise taxes. The House speaker and Senate majority leader would be required to introduce that bill to their respective chambers for debate and possible voting. (Though Conrad's legislation says that if they don't do it as required, any other member can introduce the proposed language...) The commission's bill would also be taken up by the relevant House and Senate committees.
That was voted down by the Senate Jan. 26, collecting 53 "yea" votes but falling short of the 60 needed to advance to a final up-or-down vote. This was met with consternation, as some of the GOP senators who opposed it had cosponsored a previous effort to create a deficit commission.
Obama's executive order does not mandate any of this. The commission will produce a report, but Congress will not be bound, in any sense, to consider it.
Does that mean Obama's commission is merely cosmetic? Not necessarily. The independent Baker-Hamilton commission on the Iraq war did not bind any part of the government to consider its proposals, and yet its findings became a major part of the discussion of what to do next in Iraq (even though those suggestions were largely tossed aside by President Bush).
By December 1, 2010, the commission will vote on a report that will recommend how to balance the budget by 2015. If nothing else, Obama has mandated the creation of a bipartisan thought--a suggestion that, if the commission can actually agree on anything as they've been required to do by the president, will constitute some level of balanced-budget roadmap that, in theory, will be more difficult for Republican leaders to denounce as partisan trash--because they will have appointed some of the people who came up with it.