The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform failed to produce a mandate for assaulting Social Security, undermining Medicare and Medicaid and generally balancing the budget on the backs of working Americans.
But that hasn’t stopped its co-chairmen from claiming a sort of victory for their plan to make Main Street pay for Wall Street’s failures.
Their goal is obvious. Commission co-chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles want to spin a win they did not achieve in order to foster the false impression that their ominously titled " Moment of Truth" proposal is the only real alternative to fiscal ruin. That’s not the case. There are better proposals—such as the detailed alternative to austerity outlined by commission member Jan Schakowsky. But this is a critical juncture, and progressives need to be conscious that an effort will be made to narrow the range of options and impose key elements of a bad plan that failed to gain required support.
Let’s start by getting a few things straight:
The commission was given a clear charge when President Obama cobbled it together in February—after failing to win congressional support for the formal launch of the project.
The commission was to come up with a plan address deficits, debts and the challenge of maintaining a federal government at a point when revenues are not sufficient to keep paying for every war, bailout and boondoggle that comes along.
Proposals for what could be radical, and in many cases painful, change had to attract broad support, so the president said that at least fourteen of the eighteen members of the commission would need to back an initiative before he would promote it. Senate majority leader Harry Reid and House speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to hold votes this year vote a consensus could be reached.
On Friday, the commission co-chairs failed to get to fourteen. Only eleven members of the commission voted "yes," while seven voted "no." And the seven "no" votes came from precisely the members whose votes were most needed if this plan was to have legitimacy. Three House conservatives—incoming Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin; incoming Ways and Means Committee chair Dave Camp, R-Michigan; and incoming Republicans Conference chair Jeb Henserling, R-Texas—voted "no" because they did not think it went far enough in calling for tax cuts and the gutting of entitlement programs.
Two key House Democrats, Xavier Beccera, D-California, and Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, voted "no" because, as Schakowsky explained it, the proposed benefit cuts would have meant that "those who have not joined the prosperity party the last couple years are being asked to pick up too much of the tab."
Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus, D-Montana, also voted "no," as did former Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern.