In his State of the Union address this evening, President Obama will push a bipartisan commission to make recommendations on how to reduce the national debt,
The Senate yesterday voted against a bipartisan panel, modeled after the Base Closure Commission, to issue such recommendations. Legislation creating the Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action Act of 2009 failed to reach the 60-vote threshold, with seven of the bill's original cosponsors voting against it.
"There are alternatives to a statutory version," Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag told ABC News. "We have long said that we believe a bipartisan caucus is necessary and that is what we will be pursuing."
Orszag said what's important "is that we have a bipartisan process to tackle those underlying issues. And whether that’s done through a statutory commission or an executive order commission, is less important than people stepping up to the plate and tackling these problems. And that’s what we’re hoping to happen this year."
But one of the lead sponsors of the failed Senate bill, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-ND, said a commission created by executive order and not by the Congress itself was of questionable worth.
"I don't see how that's effective because there's no assurance at all of a vote on the recommendations of the commission," Conrad told reporters Tuesday. The Senate bill would have required Congress to vote on its recommendations.
The fiscal commission vote today failed with 53 votes — seven shy of the required 60.
The other lead sponsor of the bill, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said the vote was "yet another indication that Congress is more concerned with the next election than the next generation."
Republican Senators expressed concern that the task force would recommend tax increases in addition to spending cuts to deal with the nation's structural deficit problem. In fact, seven Republican members of the Senate voted against the bill even though they originally cosponsored the bill: Sens. Robert Bennet of Utah, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Mike Crapo of Idaho, John Ensign of Nevada, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, James Inhofe of Oklahoma and John McCain of Arizona. All seven withdrew their names as cosponsors in the last week.
All seven have reasons for trying to shore up their conservative base. Bennet and McCain face primary challenges in the Senate re-election campaigns. Brownback and Hutchison are running for governor. The embattled Ensign, currently in the midst of a major ethics investigation, is up for reelection in 2012. Crapo is running for reelection this year as well.
The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, D-Mont., voted against the bill because he saw it as a cop-out.
"Bureaucrats do not enact great legislation; senators do," Baucus said. "Let us not shirk our responsibility."