Conrad-Gregg Budget Commission Defeat Was A Deficit Smackdown
What does the 53-46 vote mean for the prospects of deficit reduction?
The short answer is nothing good.
That doesn't mean that the prospects would have been much better had the amendment been adopted and the commission created. It just means we now have a pretty good indication of what the politics of deficit reduction is at the moment.
And it's ugly.
Although some will try to make a big deal about the fact that the amendment received 53 out of 99 votes and, therefore, got a majority, that argument doesn't really fly in a world where the U.S. needs 60 votes to do almost anything and less than a super majority gets you nothing. This is especially the case on budget issues. You can say that Conrad and Gregg made a good effort. But the amendment was defeated.
The defeat was absolutely bipartisan: 22 Democrats plus Independent Bernie Sanders (VT) and 23 Republicans voted against it. Here's the list of the nays from The Library of Congress' Thomas:
|Murray (D-WA) |
|Not Voting - 1|
That's about as broad an ideological and geographic distribution as you get these days on any issue and it basically says everything you need to know about how important deficit reduction is in Washington: It's just or still not as politically important as preventing a tax increase or a Medicare cut.
What happens now?
Although they've pledged to keep trying, Conrad-Gregg is dead for the rest of this year.
The president likely will appoint a budget commission of his own, but given the opposition to it expressed by Conrad, Gregg, and others, it's not at all clear what it will be able to do. It would not be surprising, for example, if GOP congressional leaders refused to name any of the Republican representatives and senators the administration's proposal supposedly will give them the authority to appoint. That would stop the commission dead in its tracks.
Most importantly, we now know for sure that, without an economic or financial crisis that changes budget politics, the deficit is a clear problem but not yet the issue it needs to be for Congress to deal with it .