Senate rejects deficit task force

Fear of tax hikes, aid cuts drive vote

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post / January 27, 2010

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WASHINGTON - The Senate yesterday rejected a plan to create a bipartisan commission to tackle the nation’s budget problems this year, leaving it up to President Obama to create such a panel by executive order.

The commission would have had broad powers to recommend changes to the tax code and cut spending on entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare.

Its recommendations, due after the November elections, would have been guaranteed an up-or-down vote in both chambers of Congress before the year is out.

But the measure won just 53 votes in the Senate, not enough to overcome a threatened filibuster. In rejecting the idea, Republicans opposed to tax increases joined Democrats fearful of being forced to cut social programs.

The vote was taken as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its latest deficit projections, forecasting that continued spending to combat last year’s recession and a muted recovery would drive this year’s deficit to $1.35 trillion, a slight improvement over previous projections but still one of the deepest budget holes since the end of World War II.

“These numbers are just staggering, and it appears that the sky is the limit for this tax-spend-and-borrow Democratic majority,’’ said Senator Judd Gregg, a Republican from New Hampshire and a cosponsor of the commission proposal with Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota.

Thirty-six Democrats, including John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, and independent Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut voted for the plan, as did 16 Republicans. Six Republicans who had previously supported the plan, including John McCain of Arizona, opposed it. Massachusetts’ other senator, Paul Kirk, also voted against the measure.

The commission proposal was offered as an amendment to a Democratic plan to increase the nation’s legal debt limit by $1.9 trillion, enough new borrowing to cover the government’s bills through the end of the year.

Several conservative Democrats have threatened to vote against such a huge increase in the debt limit without a plan to lead the nation back to balanced budgets, and it was unclear yesterday whether the president’s promise to create a budget task force by executive order would be enough to satisfy them.

Also yesterday, an administration official told Bloomberg News that Obama plans to issue a directive in the next few days suspending bonuses paid to political appointees at the White House and across departments and agencies in the government.

The bonus suspension would affect more than 3,000 people, including some of the highest-paid advisers, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the president hasn’t yet acted.