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Catfood Commission Deadline Looms

On Wednesday, the Catfood Commission is scheduled to deliver the results of their recommendations to Congress on the deficit. Since the early release of the co-chair’s mark, the Bowles-Simpson recommendations, the pair have scaled back their plan to attract votes.

The chairmen of the White House’s debt-reduction commission are making last-minute changes to their provocative early draft in an effort to broaden support before a crucial Wednesday vote, people familiar with the matter said […]

Several Republicans on the panel have privately pushed for more spending cuts and other changes to tax policy. One of their concerns: the changes to the tax code, which would raise the amount some pay, are permanent, while many of the spending cuts are temporary. Democrats, for their part, want more cuts from defense appropriations.

The co-chairmen have spent days trying to determine if they can incorporate the ideas to win broader support ahead of Wednesday’s vote. Several people familiar with the process said it was still impossible to gauge the outcome.

There’s a public meeting tomorrow, and a final vote Wednesday. Everyone seems to be saying that consensus is unlikely on all but a few issues, but there’s been an interesting changing of the rules mid-stream. Throughout the life of the Catfood Commission, the working theory is that 14 votes would be needed for any recommendation to make it to Congress. But in this article, Damian Paletta suggests that the amount of votes for the proposal will send a strong signal about future votes in Congress.

If the panel wins close to a dozen votes for its proposal, some of the ideas could be incorporated into the White House’s 2011 budget proposal, or tax and spending plans from either Democrats or Republicans next year. If the proposal receives only a handful of votes, it will likely send a signal that the parties remain at odds over how best to rework the country’s tax and spending priorities, suggesting that it will take much longer for any changes to be made.

This is not at all the way the commission is supposed to work. If it gets 14 votes for its recommendations, it gets a Congressional vote. If not, it dies. The partial votes amounts to grading on a curve.

It’s not like the Catfood Commission came up with anything revolutionary. Ideas for reducing the budget deficit are as common in Washington as free lunches for the press conferences announcing those ideas. The point of the commission was to arrive at a political consensus, and without 14 votes, that prospect will fail. Period. There are no moral victories here.

Politico got one anonymous Democrat to say “we’re going to surprise some people.” But they added that any package would be limited by the 14 votes needed. Yes, that was the whole point!

Some would say that the Catfood Commission basically succeeded by getting the Administration to lunge at a federal employee pay freeze as a pre-emptive strike. That was probably dictated by the outcome of the elections more than the commission, however. And remember, the President inaugurated the commission, after it failed in Congress. I think we can safely say that the President is getting what he wants out of the deal.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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