Why Even John McCain Wanted To Kill The Budget Commission

Congress failed to approve the Conrad-Gregg debt commission plan today, defeating it by failing to find 60 aye votes to cut off a filibuster. If the bill passed and then passed the House, Congress would have been forced to vote yay or nay on any recommendations the commission made. President Obama approved the idea. Democratic senators like Evan Bayh and Mary Landreiu voted in favor of it.

Liberal Democrats didn't -- they knew that the commission would probably recommend cuts in treasured (and necessary) entitlement programs. Most Republicans opposed the bill on the grounds that it was little more than a way for President Obama to bolster his deficit-fighting resume. Six Republicans who supported an identical measure voted NAY this time, including two Republicans who don't want to give any ammunition their primary opponents. John McCain -- JOHN McCAIN -- voted no. Why? Hard to say.

He cosponsored the previous measure. Maybe he's worried that J.D. Hayworth, his potential primary opponent -- a birther, btw -- would accuse him of making it easier for Congress to raise taxes. (The commission would probably recommend a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts; bitter medicine for partisans.) Maybe Texas gubernatorial candidate Kay Bailey Hutchison doesn't want to give Gov. Rick Perry the chance to say she made it easier for Obama to sneak in some sort of tax hike.

In any event, while it's hard to see how this single vote turns too many heads, reading the votes tells us quite a bit about how the basic algebra of politics endures in even the craziest of environments. Nominally, senators said it would remove their ability to amend the bill, and they needed discretion -- the point of the commission is to take away some of that discretion by priming the deficit pump, btw. The complaint may be legitimate, but the politics are easy: people don't trust Congress to make choices!