Senate rejects deficit reduction commission

The 53-46 vote fell seven votes shy of the necessary 60 under an agreement both parties reached Monday night, and represented deep divisions on both sides of the aisle. A group of 37 Democrats and 16 Republicans supported the commission, while 23 Republicans and 23 Democrats opposed it.

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The vote defeated an amendment by Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) that would have created an 18-member panel to propose spending and reduction policies.

The amendment’s defeat was largely expected. President Barack Obama belatedly endorsed the concept over the weekend, but favors an executive-created panel, which his administration is now likely to propose.

Senators who supported the idea of a commission said they were frustrated at congressional inaction in reining in federal spending.

“We’ve got to do something. Everybody keeps saying, ‘Let Congress do it,’ but we haven’t done it,” said Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.). “This commission would have given me a lot of assurance.”

Gregg, in a statement after the vote, called the commission’s defeat “yet another indication that Congress is more concerned with the next election than the next generation.”

“This bipartisan task force is the best and most realistic option for tackling our tremendous levels of debt,” Gregg said. “To discard it is a major setback for the future generations of Americans who will be left to pay down our debt at the expense of their standard of living and future economic growth.”

But others, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), opposed the idea because the panel could have recommended revenue-increasing strategies such as higher taxes.

“I want a spending commission, and I worry that this commission could have gotten together and agreed to increase taxes,” said McCain. “Spending cuts are what we need. We don’t need to raise taxes."

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, also argued against losing congressional influence over spending decisions.

“We don’t need to turn over spending to (Obama),” Cochran said. “We’re going to jealously protect our prerogatives. Congress can’t shift its responsibility to others, and that’s what we would be doing.”