Conrad-Gregg Modified, but not Defanged

by Bruce Webb

In recent weeks there has been some furor over the new push to tie an increase in the debt ceiling to the establishment of a new Deficit Commission based on proposals but forth on the Senate side in Conrad-Gregg or on the House side in Cooper-Wolf. Ezra Klein today tells us (rather scornfully) that really we have nothing to worry about because would just be The Little Commission that Couldn’t. Well Ezra got pawned. Below the fold is my comment to his post.

Ezra you have been pwned a little bit here.

The original Conrad-Gregg proposal had 16 members, 8 R’s and 8 D’s with two D slots allocated to the Administration meaning an 8 to 6 Congressional split between R and D. And in practical terms there would be no way to keep Conrad of Conrad-Gregg and Cooper of Cooper-Wolf off the Commission. If we assume that Republican leadership would name 8 members hostile to Medicare and particularly Social Security, then add in the votes of Conrad and Gregg for ‘reform’ then the Commission starts off with 10 votes for that and with Administration buy-in would have its 12 vote super-majority on the way in the door. You can see a description of the original version here right from Conrad’s office: “Senators Conrad and Gregg introduced the Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal
Action Act (S. 2063) on September 18. The bill would establish a 16-member task force comprised of eight Democrats and eight Republicans, designated by Congressional leaders and the President. Fourteen members of the task force would be current Members of Congress, and the remaining two members would be from the current Administration.”

The new proposal by adding two members would change the dynamic a little if they are both congressional democrats thus restoring and 8 to 8 R to D balance among Congressional members but makes the numbers not shift much. Assuming that Conrad and Cooper are two of those eight and Admin buy in progressives dems would have to hold 5 out of the 6 remaining Dems to block action. And given the state of the Senate you know that at least one of the three spots under Reid’s effective control will go to another Conservadem (and Baucus would be a natural choice) giving reformers at least 13 of their needed 14 votes, and if Reid bends and adds a centrist perhaps 14. Even if by some miracle Reid preserves two spots for liberal to progressive members, blocking action would mean Pelosi needing to having to name three defenders of Social Security while blocking any additional Blue Dog or centrist Budget Hawk. Probably not possible and even if it happens leaves progressives staring at a 13 to 5 split and the labels ‘obstructionist’ and ‘denier’. If under that pressure one of the 5 remaining Dems cracks the proposal goes on a fast track basis to Congress where that same dynamic repeats. Having explicitly admitted that there is an ‘entitlements crisis’ by allowing the Commission to be established in the first place Democrats would be stuck in a lose/lose position, allow the bill’s recommendations to be adopted (and no amendments are allowed) or block it and be revealed as feckless tax and spend ostriches with heads firmly stuck in the sand.

Going to 18 members seemingly eliminates the clear imbalance of the original proposal but does not in practice allow the non-Blue Dog democrats anymore than a figleaf of cover.

Update: Baucus comes out strong against Conrad-Gregg, though mostly it seems because he doesn’t want to have his Committee bypassed.
This doesn’t change the dynamic much, you could substitute Lincoln or Nelson for Baucus and have the same outcome outlined above.