WASHINGTON — This week the Senate is expected to vote on a proposal to discipline federal spending, but it's not expected to pass.
The Senate is set to vote on whether to create a powerful bipartisan commission charged with making deficit-cutting recommendations right after this year's mid-term elections. If most commission members agree on a plan, Congress would have to vote before Christmas on the recommendations.
Congressional leaders are wary of this approach, seeing the commission proposal as a threat to strip their power over government money.
To Democrats, who control the White House and Congress, ceding that power is politically risky, since it creates "a reluctance to admit that Congress hasn't been able to do its job," said Susan Tanaka, a top official at the Peterson Foundation, which advocates fiscal discipline and supports creating such a commission.
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Still, lawmakers know that they need to act soon to rein in the skyrocketing federal debt. They also know that Medicare and Social Security are headed toward bankruptcy as baby boomers enter retirement.
The commission proposal is expected to get fewer than the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate under an agreement reached last month, and President Obama is considering issuing an executive order to create a less powerful task force to recommend deficit-cutting strategies. However, it would lack legal authority to force Congress to vote on its proposals.
The tougher plan is authored by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the committee's top Republican. It would create a task force of 10 Democrats and eight Republicans to review the government's long-term financial condition. It would recommend potential remedies — higher taxes, lower spending, program changes or some combination.
The plan was co-sponsored by 30 senators from both parties. But its prospects are dim.
What's needed is "a broad consensus between Democrats, Republicans and the administration that reducing the deficit is a big priority, and so it's important for everyone to compromise. But I don't think they're ready to do that," said James Horney, director of federal fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal research group.
In the House, 100 lawmakers from both parties back a similar plan. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has been cool to the idea, saying that the legislative process is adequate to deal with fiscal issues.