The odds were always against President Obama's deficit commission. The 18-member panel, co-chaired by former Republican senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming and former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles of North Carolina, is due to release a report in December that will "put forward proposals to balance the budget excluding interest payments on the debt (the so-called primary budget) by 2015 and to meaningfully improve the long-term fiscal outlook," according to OMB director Peter Orszag. The hitch: proposals won't be made unless they earn the backing of 14 commission members. Hence a five-person bloc can effectively veto drastic spending cuts or, more likely, tax increases.
Opposition to tax increases will come from the commission's Republican members. The GOP congressional leadership announced today that those members will be Sens. Mike Crapo of Idaho, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, along with Reps. Dave Camp of Michigan, Jeb Hensarling of Texas, and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. You can count on five of those names -- Crapo, Coburn, Camp, Hensarling, and Ryan -- to oppose tax hikes. Gregg? He may be tempted to strike a deal. Set to retire, he'll be a lame duck by the time the commission delivers its findings. And he's argued in the past that only a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases can clean up America's fiscal mess. (Crapo was an initial cosponsor of Gregg's own deficit commission proposal before voting against it in the Senate.) Still, one rogue won't matter if five members hold the line.
The White House wants the full commission to be in operation soon. Government spending has become a major voter concern, spurring opposition to the Obama agenda and budget deficit. But the commission will be more of a college seminar than anything else. The report won't be binding. Congress can do whatever it wants with the recommendations, which will arrive during the lame-duck session after the midterm elections. And by that time, Harry Reid may be too busy packing his things to read the commission's report -- much less hold a vote.