Harry Reid appointed three Senate Democrats to the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission created by executive order: Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, and Minority Whip Dick Durbin. He released an accompanying statement.

“I am pleased that President has decided to take bold action to move forward and create a commission by executive order. The establishment of this commission is an important signal that we understand the need to address our fiscal challenges and are committed to finding bipartisan solutions. Senators Durbin, Baucus and Conrad all have vast experience in dealing with the federal budget and have a proven record of looking out for working families like those in Nevada.

“I have committed to President Obama that I will work to ensure that the commission’s recommendations receive a vote in the Senate. Senate Democrats understand that we have to be responsible stewards of the federal budget.”

Apparently Reid wanted Daniel Inouye, the chair of the Appropriations Committee, but he begged off, citing a re-election campaign in Hawaii. So Durbin got the nod.

If Republicans actually comply with this commission, you can bet that Ranking Member of the Budget Committee Judd Gregg will get a spot. So maybe this is the Conrad-Gregg Commission after all.

The rules of the commission state that 14 of the 18 members (six picked by Dem leaders in the House and Senate, six by the Republican leaders, and six by the White House) would have to agree on any recommendation in order for it to make the final list. Clearly no Republicans will agree to a single tax increase, even if they pay lip service to it during the hearings. But Conrad and Baucus would in all likelihood have no problem cutting entitlement benefits, given their past statements. Baucus did slammed the Conrad-Gregg Commission when it was up for a vote in the Senate, but that was more a function of his committee getting bypassed than anything else. And now, he’ll be in the arena, where he thinks he belongs.

If Nancy Pelosi applied the same logic as Reid, appointing the chairs of the relevant committees to the commission, we’d have John Spratt (Budget), Charlie Rangel (Ways and Means) and David Obey (Appropriations). Speculation on Obama’s other four choices outside of Bowles and Simpson have gone anywhere from the CEO of Honeywell to Andy Stern of the SEIU to deficit scold Alice Rivlin.

I think there’s reason to be concerned about the clear tilt toward cuts and away from new revenues on this panel. And I wouldn’t expect the cuts to be in the real fat of the budget, like the military. The final recommendations would have to pass supermajorities in both houses of Congress, however, and the final appointees haven’t even been named yet, so there’s a ways to go.

David Dayen

David Dayen