The bipartisan commission from Budget Committee co-chairs (for all intents and purposes) Kent Conrad and Judd Gregg was supposed to be modeled on the Base Closure and Realignment Commission, where the panel would offer recommendations that could not be changed and would face an up or down vote in both Houses of Congress. But the actual proposal from Conrad and Gregg wouldn’t do that at all. In fact, it would be more difficult to pass anything it recommended than it would normal legislation – and we can see how hard that is.
The task force would review all aspects of the current and long-term financial condition of the federal government. The task force recommendations, which would be submitted to the Congress after the 2010 elections, would be considered by Congress under expedited procedures with a vote required.
Importantly, the task force would ensure a bipartisan outcome. Broad bipartisan agreement would be required to move anything forward. Fourteen of the 18 Task Force members would have to agree to report the recommendations. And final passage would require supermajorities in both the Senate and House. (emphasis mine)
There’s just no way anything that this committee recommends, in the current political environment, would pass. You would not only preserve the ability to filibuster this in the Senate, but would add the possibility of what amounts to a filibuster in the House. It just won’t be possible to get such a consensus, at least not anytime soon.
A budget-cutting commission is dangerous, but if Conrad and Gregg had the votes in the Senate to pass Social Security or Medicare cuts, this commission would not help advance that at all. Since it’s virtually no different – and actually even harder – to pass something through the commission than to pass something in Congress on its own, then I agree with Matt Yglesias – you might as well let this pass and give Gregg and Conrad a pony.
I am tempted to credit the White House on this one. They reportedly were trying to soften the Conrad/Gregg proposal, and now this is as soft as tissue paper. But you also have to credit the strange conventions of the Senate, and the fetish on bipartisanship, for turning this budget commission into something totally meaningless.