President Obama’s deficit commission must appear on the national stage Wednesday and announce something: it may be a proposal approved by a majority of its 18 members, but most money is on an irresolvable split that makes a final product impossible.
So while there will be some drama this week around the outcome of the panel’s deliberations – the commission won’t vote on the report until Friday – it will be in many ways anticlimactic. The real groundwork for what is to come in the months ahead – the hard work of actually making choices when spending cuts and deficit reduction become a necessity – has already been laid by the commission in the past few weeks.
Even if the panel somehow reaches an agreement on a set of proposals, Congress is not bound to take it up. So no matter what, the final report is likely to be disregarded for the most part until the nation’s leaders are forced by an emergency to look to it for answers.
All of this is what commission co-chair Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, was referring to earlier in November when he said that “it won’t matter whether two of us have signed this or 14 or 18,” referring to the number over votes needed for passage out of the panel.
His prediction was that when the national debt nears the federal limit early next year, requiring Congressional action to raise the ceiling, there will be a “political bloodbath” that will send lawmakers scurrying for ideas like the ones laid out in commission proposals.
That kind of thinking is likely what prompted Simpson and fellow co-chair Erskine Bowles, a former White House chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, to release their own draft plan in early November. The week after that, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a liberal Illinois Democrat, released her own plan. That was followed one day later by a third proposal from the Bipartisan Policy Center, spearheaded by commission member Alice Rivlin, a former budget director for Clinton, and former Republican Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico.
These three plans – the liberal Schakowsky plan, the center-right Rivlin/Domenici plan, and the centrist Bowles/Simpson plan – are the construction material that Simpson predicted will be picked up in the coming months if, in fact, it takes a political or economic crisis to force action in Congress. Rivlin/Domenici and Bowles/Simpson have a number of things in common, while Schakowsky’s plan is a liberal jeremiad that features a large number of new and higher taxes.
Here are the defining elements of the three potential paths forward (click here for a full comparison chart):