Bowles-Simpson not likely to win 100 votes

A budget proposal incorporating the ideas of President Obama’s deficit commission seems unlikely to win even 100 votes of support on the House floor.

Missing that mark would be disappointing, since 40 Republicans and 60 Democrats signed a letter backing a bipartisan deficit solution last fall during the deficit supercomittee’s deliberations. The letter was seen as endorsement of the Bowles-Simpson commission’s plan, which was never endorsed by Obama.

ADVERTISEMENT
But Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform on Wednesday ripped the proposal as a trillion dollar tax increase, leaving many Republicans unwilling to support it on the floor. The Heritage Foundation is also urging a "no" vote.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) signed last year’s letter but is leaning against the bill, saying he is “reluctant to raise taxes.”

Centrist appropriator Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) said she is studying the amendment and cannot commit.

Some Democrats who signed the letter also say they might not vote for the Bowles-Simpson budget when it hits the floor Wednesday night.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) signed the fall letter, but said Wednesday he was still studying the amendment offered by Reps. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn).

“It's not exactly Bowles-Simpson, but it mirrors Bowles-Simpson, which I'm for. Bowles-Simpson is a concept,” he said. “I'm certainly going to say I'm for that [the idea of a grand bargain], whether or not I support the particular bill or not, I haven't decided.”

Hoyer is in a tough spot on the vote, sources said, because his main focus is to shore up support for the main Democratic budget alternative, authored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

Supporters of a deficit grand bargain said the decision to move forward with the legislation was made at the last minute during a Monday dinner.

Members were divided about whether a highly political week — when the House is fighting over budgets and the Supreme Court is examining healthcare reform — was the right time to proceed with the measure.

The amendment calls for tax reform that could lower the top individual tax rate to 23 percent, while cutting loopholes to raise $1 trillion in new revenue to reduce the deficit. It calls on Congress to come up with Medicare and Social Security reforms that possibly includes cuts like raising eligibility ages. It contains deeper cuts to defense than either the GOP or Obama have proposed.

Reps. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.), and Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), who both signed the letter, said they will vote “no.”

Stutzman said he is for tax reform, and could consider a grand bargain offer that comes from the White House, but this week is about supporting the House GOP’s budget, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

“If anything is going to happen, it is going to be after the election,” Dicks said.

Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), another letter signee, is also undecided.

“In general Rep. Lummis supports the compromise of Simpson-Bowles but is still reviewing numbers of the specific budget proposal,” her office said.

Undeterred, LaTourette on Wednesday predicted the measure could still win 100 votes.

“I think we’re comfortably closing in on triple digits,” LaTourette said. “It is really having a snowball effect.”

“Every time Cooper and I circulate on the floor, we’re having somebody come up to us and say we’re in – and surprising people,” LaTourette said. “On my side of the aisle, surprising people have come up to me, just during this series of votes, and people that I wouldn’t have necessarily expected.”

LaTourette said the amendment would definitely get more than a few dozen votes.

“We set a bar of not embarrassing Mr. Simpson and Mr. Bowles. An embarrassment would be 20,” he said.

Some grand-bargain supporters are falling in line.

Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.), Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) and Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said they strongly support the amendment.

Larson said as caucus chair he is not whipping the Cooper-LaTourette amendment since it would be unfair to the other substitute amendment being offered.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said he's leaning toward the proposal. The sooner Congress addresses the nation's fiscal issues, he said, the better.

"It's imperative that this country have a grand bargain, or we'll continue to be mired in more and more debt," he said. "I see it as a question of, 'If not [now], when?'"

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), another strong advocate for a grand bargain, said he's also likely to support the amendment, as well as the proposals presented by Van Hollen and Obama.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas), a Blue Dog and vice chairman of the Democrats' Steering and Policy Committee, said he'll also back the proposal. Cuellar conceded that he didn't expect overwhelming support for the measure, saying only the Blue Dogs are whipping the bill. Still, Cuellar rejected the notion that an underwhelming vote could cause the bill to lose momentum.

"If nothing happens, I'm sure this is not the end of the fight," Cuellar said. "Nothing's ever dead here. Things have a way of surfacing again."

Bernie Becker contributed.