Bayh wants deficit commission for vote to raise debt ceiling

Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.) on Tuesday signaled he would not support a measure to raise the country's debt ceiling unless lawmakers first established a bipartisan commission to oversee deficit spending.

Congress has raised the maximum the country can owe eight times since 2001 to avoid a crippling default on about $12 trillion in total debt, but Bayh hopes to use that upcoming, crucial vote to pitch -- and hopefully, to pass -- his more long-term, deficit-reduction measures.

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“Who would have thought that the Budget Committee would be the site for the beginning of an institutional insurrection, but here we are,” Bayh said before the committee on Tuesday. “Many of us count ourselves as pragmatists not idealists, moderates not extremists. Yet here we are, asking for a change in the way business is done in Washington.”

Rather, Bayh is advocating the creation of a bipartisan panel that could in effect mandate spending cuts or impose new taxes to reduce the deficit and tackle the debt. Although the details of the plan are still murky, and supporting lawmakers disagree how over much authority the panel should have, the idea has proven nonetheless controversial to the Senate lawmakers writ large.

A number of senators have argued recently the commission would be partisan, its decisions would be unfair and its activities would merely encroach on territory belonging to other congressional committees.

That sentiment is echoed in the House. “[Speaker Nancy Pelosi] thinks we can accomplish the same goals through the work of the committees we already have,” Brendan Daly, her spokesman, told The New York Times.

Bayh, however, perhaps has time and precedent on his side. Treasury officials expect Congress will have to raise the country's debt ceiling again by December in order to remain fiscally sound, and lawmakers are always reluctant to approve such increases -- a skepticism about spending that has dominated this session of Congress and could provide the momentum Bayh needs to advance his proposals.

“There are rare moments of leverage in this institution where you can implement fundamental change,” Bayh said on Tuesday. “This is one of those moments. We must seize it.”