President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission has finally voted* on the plan produced by its co-chairs, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson–and the result was something of a non-victory. Eleven of the panel’s 18 members voted in favor of the plan, meaning it earned the majority that traditionally constitutes a win. But under the executive order establishing the commission in February, a supermajority of 14 votes was required to formally submit the plan for Congressional action. And that didn’t happen, thanks to opposition from commission members on the left and right.
So there are two ways you can look at this outcome. One is that failing to win a supermajority is clearly a disappointment, and means that Congress won’t feel strong pressure to take action on the plan. Another is that winning a majority wasn’t an obvious outcome, and is certainly better than the embarrassment–and sense of futility–that would come with not winning a majority. Ezra Klein, for one, thinks the vote–and some encouraging words even from the plan’s opponents–good enough to give the plan credibility if Obama wants to run with it. (One option would be to build some of its elements into his 2011 budget proposal.) Look for Obama’s take when he returns from Afghanistan.
One thing the commission clearly did accomplish was to focus attention on the medium-to-long term debt threat and ways of mitigating it. That was the basis for Bowles’s claim, at a press conference earlier this week, that the panel had achieved “victory” regardless of the final tally. Of course, not everyone agrees on the importance of having that conversation right now, especially with the economy still bleeding on the emergency-room floor. Now that the panel is folding up its tent, we’ll see whether Obama and leaders in Congress agree.
*For reasons unclear, “[t]here was no formal roll call,” the panel’s spokesman says by email, but “members all explained their vote.”