Wednesday afternoon, the House began consideration of the fiscal year 2013 budget resolution (the basic congressional budget plan, which sets the limit for appropriations). Late in the evening, the House defeated a proposed amendment that would have implemented a substantial deficit-reduction plan, modeled after the report of the President’s Commission for Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly called the Bowles-Simpson Commission (after its co-chairs, Erskine Bowles and former Senator Alan Simpson). The language of the amendment mirrored the Bowles-Simpson report fairly closely (a budget resolution is rather sketchy on details), with the major departure being to allow the continuation of a capital gains tax preference, which Bowles-Simpson would have repealed.
The vote was 38 in favor, 382 against the amendment. Democrats voted against the amendment 22-159; Republicans voted 16-226. So it was a bipartisan amendment, even in defeat.
Commentators interpreted the vote today by saying that Republicans would not vote for a tax increase, and Democrats would not vote for a tax increase that would not happen – especially when the amendment also included cuts in Social Security and Medicare.
This vote shows yet again just how difficult it will be actually to solve the budget problem. The two political poles are widely divided, and each side wants a solution all its own way (which, given the size of our budget deficit and debt, will not be possible). The few House Members who voted for the amendment will catch a lot of heat from their colleagues.
Those Members will be joined by enough others to constitute a majority only when there is a sense of urgency, and when there is enough prospect for success that any Member’s “no” vote carries clear consequences. When such budget agreements were reached in 1990 and 1997 (the 1993 budget plan was passed by only one political party), there were bipartisan negotiations outside of the regular legislative process, and those negotiations were led by the President. There is no reason to see any different approaches succeeding now. We can only wonder whether the Congress and the White House can achieve the necessary awareness without an economic crisis so serious that the damage already will have been done.