Is Obama's Debt Panel a Political Death Panel?

Commission is unlikely to get the votes from panel members who'll have to face voters

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President Obama's debt panel released its recommendations Tuesday morning, but the fate of those proposals doesn't look great. While the commission's chairmen are comfortably retired from politics--and therefore free to defend their controversial debt-reduction plan--their 12 colleagues who happen to be members of Congress are a bit more skittish.

Chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles have delayed a final vote till Friday, when they'll need a thumbs up from 14 of the panel's 18 members in order to send the plan to Congress. That now looks like a longshot, The New York Times' Jackie Calmes and Peter Baker report.

Additionally, "a failure to win support from at least some lawmakers from both parties would undercut the panel’s ability even to set the terms of a debate between the administration and Congress over how to proceed in addressing chronic annual budget deficits and a national debt that is mounting toward unsustainable levels." The plan now caps domestic and military spending, increases payroll taxes for Social Security, raises the retirement age to 69, and cuts tax breaks like the mortgage interest deduction. Republicans hate the tax increases, Democrats hate the tampering with social programs.

  • A Necessary Suicide Pact, NBC News' Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg report that 70 percent of adults don't want lawmakers to change Medicare, Social Security, or defense spending. And almost 60 percent dont want taxes raised. "espite the rhetoric, this is one issue where the public is NOT demanding specific action. The only shot Washington has of doing this is holding hands and jumping off the political cliff… together."
  • Four Votes Short, Katy O'Donnell reports at National Journal. "People close to the commission told National Journal that at least 10 of the panel’s 18 members support the plan. Under the panel’s charter, any recommendation to Congress needs the support of at least 14 members. But that threshold has always been viewed as unrealistic, given the intense party polarization in Congress."
  • Surprise, Surprise, Esquire scoffs. Of course the panel doesn't have the votes. "What, exactly, did the president think was going to happen when he turned this thing over to a bunch of active politicians? That they would simply forget all about the prospect of pissing off voters, 501(c)(4)s, and @SarahPalinUSA? These guys live and breath for public approval, and if the president thought they were going to set aside party loyalties and make the tough, unpopular decisions this crisis requires, he really hasn't spent enough time in Washington. The whole thing was doomed from the start."
  • Taking the Plan on the Road, The Wall Street Journal's Damian Paletta reports. Bowles and Simpson said two weeks ago that they wouldn't stump for their plan after unveiling it, but they've changed their tune. But, Paletta writes, "they now plan to hold a news conference on Dec. 8 in Cheyenne, Wyo., to do just that. The focus of the two-day 2010 Wyoming Forum, sponsored by the Wyoming Business Alliance and the Wyoming Heritage Foundation, will be 'National Debt: The Consequences of No Action.' And no need to worry if your personal deficit crisis prevents you from flying to Cheyenne. The group will provide real-time video on the event’s website."
  • Missing a Spoonful of Sugar, Ben writes at Ace of Spades HQ. "We are going to be hearing a lot of this when the Commission releases it's final plan. Special interest groups who want the debt cut, but howl when it is there program that is getting cut. The coming cuts are going to be painful and none of us are going to be spared, but we don't really have anymore options. The medicine always tastes terrible."
  • Simpson Fights Back, Doug Mataconis notes at Outside the Beltway. Simpson recently told reporters, “We had the greatest generation — I think this is the greediest generation.” Joyner writes, "Much like the Commission itself, Simpson has been attacked by both the left and the right for some of the outspoken comments he’s made lately, but he’s absolutely right here.  The Deficit Commission is a good idea, and hopefully its final report will put forward a plan that can serve as a starting point for a rational discussion of what Americans really want from their government, and how they’re going to pay for it. It’s going to be hard to do , though, in a political climate where there will be pushback from the blowhards of the left and the right, which is why it’s good to see someone like Simpson already taking pre-emptive strikes against the demagouges..."
  • Time to Get Real About Cutting DoD, Jed Babbin writes at Real Clear Politics. The current plan doesn't cut defense spending the right way--or enough. Neither does a competing plan from Barney Frank and Ron Paul, Babbin says. "The defense budget is not sacrosanct: it can be cut and realigned to literally get the most bang for the buck. By those cuts and realignments of spending the savings may be - if the analysis is accomplished properly - even bigger than those two proposals estimate. But the cuts can't be just an arbitrary list of things people don't like. They have to be based on the missions our armed forces are responsible to perform. ... From the top down, as a matter of national policy, we need to understand at a detailed level just what the Pentagon is going to be expected to do for the next five to ten years. Without the analytical basis provided by such a review, budget cutters are working in the dark."
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