For most of the week, you could see the wheels coming off of the Catfood Commission. First we heard that “they may surprise us,” but then there was this moving of the goalposts. Despite the fact that 14 of the 18 panel members had to agree to secure any recommendations which would go to Congress for a vote, now insiders were saying that a majority vote would show a signal of support.

But it’s clear that Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson can’t even get that. They canceled a planned public meeting today in favor of more private negotiation. And reports emerged that the panel was simply deeply divided on the issues.

A presidential commission on balancing the U.S. budget likely will fail Wednesday to secure enough support for its deficit-cutting plan to trigger a congressional vote on it, aides and analysts said.

With just a day left before a deadline to produce a plan, the commission’s co-chairmen were still scrambling to nail down 14 votes among the commission’s 18 members—a super-majority threshold set when the panel was created in February.

“We do not think that the commission’s report will get 14 votes,” said Brian Gardner, a Washington policy analyst at the investment firm of Keefe Bruyette & Woods.

Trust the lobbyists on this one.

You know that Simpson and Bowles are sweating, because they don’t want to bring their proposal up for a vote. The latest is that they won’t hold a vote tomorrow.

President Obama’s deficit commission is likely to delay a vote, originally set for Wednesday, on a plan to rein in the soaring national debt, according to congressional sources.

As commission chairmen Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson huddle one-on-one with other members in hopes of assembling a respectable majority, sources said Tuesday that a vote later in the week is looking more likely.

So, this is a violation of the commission’s mandate. In his executive order, the President very clearly states that the report must come out by December 1, tomorrow, at the latest.

(a) No later than December 1, 2010, the Commission shall vote on the approval of a final report containing a set of recommendations to achieve the mission set forth in section 4 of this order.

(b) The issuance of a final report of the Commission shall require the approval of not less than 14 of the 18 members of the Commission.

Basically, Simpson and Bowles are blowing off the report. They’ll cobble together something which can get a handful of votes, something respectable enough to them, and then the Congress will be under no obligation to vote for it (not that they ever were). This is an acknowledgement of defeat from the commission.

The entire thing was an embarrassing display from two self-admiring cretins who wanted to use an economic crisis as a pretense to destroy the social safety net. Whatever they come up with will still represent a threat on that front, especially with a Republican House and who knows what in the White House, but this failure will damage the credibility for catfood. And progressive reports which show deficit reduction without touching the safety net are gaining in prominence.

Maybe both sides can agree on canceling the ethanol subsidies and we can call it a day.

UPDATE: At a press conference, Simpson and Bowles say they will present their report tomorrow, with a vote on Friday. That means the report will not be official. It would have to get 14 votes by tomorrow for that to occur. Now it’s just a bunch of greybeards in Washington with some cockamamie ideas. It doesn’t even rise to the level of a panel white paper.

…I should note that the real news here was that Simpson claimed Harry Reid promised to give their plan a vote in the NEXT Congress, not this one. Simpson and Bowles aren’t even promising to provide legislative language, so any hope of a vote in the lame duck is gone. But did Reid really promise this? I’m trying to find out.