Gregg calls for re-vote on fiscal panel

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said President Barack Obama should strong-arm his party in order to pass legislation forming a fiscal commission to make recommendations to reduce the deficit.

The legislation calling for the bipartisan panel failed on a 53-46 vote last month. Gregg, a lead co-sponsor of the legislation, wants another vote and thinks Obama should produce the seven votes that fell short.

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The GOP was sharply criticized after the vote fell six votes shy and seven Republicans who were co-sponsors didn’t vote yes. A group of 17 Republicans did back it, including Gregg, who co-authored the bill with Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.).

But Gregg on Wednesday noted that Senate Democrats control 60 votes, at least until Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is sworn in.

“The best way to do it is to have another vote, and have them produce a few more votes,” Gregg said. “Clearly, the White House has shown the ability to discipline their party in the Senate, and if they want to pass this, they should be able to … If they can get 60 for healthcare and 60 for pay-as-you-go limits, they can certainly get seven more votes.”

Two senior Democratic aides said no re-vote is under consideration and that Obama's commission is moving forward.

"It was disappointing that Republican supporters of a deficit-reduction commission quickly flip-flopped once President Obama endorsed it,” one aide said. “If they now want to flip-flop-flip, great. But President Obama shouldn’t wait for them before moving forward with his own commission."

Republican Sens. Sam Brownback (Kan.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), John Ensign (Nev.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), James Inhofe (Okla.) and John McCain (Ariz.) all voted against the bill, despite being co-sponsors. A seventh GOP senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, had co-sponsored the bill and planned to support it but was forced to miss the vote for family reasons.

Opponents of the idea, including the defecting co-sponsors, said they objected to delegating congressional control over fiscal decisions; the commission’s authority to recommend revenue-raising ideas such as tax increases; and a perception that the commission wasn’t focused enough on spending cuts.

Gregg’s comment Wednesday came despite clear movement by the White House toward an executive-based panel. Several times in the past week, including in his State of the Union address, at an event with House Republicans on Friday, and again Wednesday before Senate Democrats, Obama has mentioned the panel he plans to create by executive order.

Gregg and Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) on Wednesday were critical of an executive panel, saying it would be weaker than a legislative panel.

Conrad has said in recent days that he doubts any of the defecting Republicans would reverse their votes, and Gregg agreed Wednesday. But Gregg called on Obama administration officials to lobby the 23 Democrats who opposed it to change their minds.

“We’re still believing in a fairly big Republican vote — almost half the conference,” Gregg said. “It seems to me that another vote would have a good chance of passing if the White House really wanted to engage.”

Gregg said he has not personally contacted the White House to lobby for a second commission vote, and does not plan to. “I’ll leave that up to Kent,” he said, referring to Conrad.

The 23 Democrats who opposed the commission last week include Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Max Baucus (Mont.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Roland Burris (Ill.), Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Bob Casey Jr (Pa.), Chris Dodd (Conn.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), Paul Kirk (Mass.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Arlen Specter (Pa.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) , Tom Udall (N.M.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.).

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) wasn’t a co-sponsor but was a one-time supporter of the idea who changed his mind. On CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, he said he did so because the commission wasn’t focused enough on reducing spending.