The ‘Biden Commission’ Takes Shape (Sort of)

by Andrew Stiles

President Obama’s “do-over” summit on deficit reduction — set to take place on May 5 at the Blair House — is shaping up to be a rather intimate affair. In his “excessively partisan” speech last week at George Washington University, Obama announced the creation of a second deficit commission to be led by Vice President Joe Biden. He also asked congressional leaders to appoint four members each to represent them at the talks, for a total a 17 participants, including the VP.

But so far only six have officially been tapped to attend the May 5 meeting. Republicans leaders announced today that they would only be sending two members — House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.) — to represent them at the talks. Democrats have selected two from each chamber — Assistant Leader James Clyburn (D., S.C.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), ranking member on the House Budget Committee, as well as Sens. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) and Daniel Inouye (D., Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Baucus, it’s worth noting, also served on the original Bowles-Simpson commission, but was the only Senate representative to vote against its final recommendations. 

For their part, Republicans have been fairly upfront about their lack of enthusiasm for this new round of deficit negotiations. “With a crisis of this magnitude, commissions are simply no substitute for action,” Boehner said in a statement. “That’s why the House has already passed a responsible budget that cuts spending and preserves critical health and retirement programs for America’s seniors. The President, on the other hand, utterly ignored the recommendations of his last deficit commission and submitted a budget that would add more than $9 trillion to the debt and raise taxes on job creators.”

Cantor expressed a similar skepticism, calling on the commission to set clear goals and guidelines in order to appropriately frame the discussions:

Getting spending and our deficit under control can no longer be put off for another day, which is why I will participate in the latest iteration of the President’s fiscal commission and am appreciative of Speaker Boehner for appointing me. However, I remain skeptical that the Administration will take this effort seriously, especially after it all but ignored its previous debt commission and President Obama had to be dragged kicking and screaming to consider minimal spending cuts for the rest of this fiscal year. A serious effort to get our fiscal house in order is sorely needed, however, which is why I believe this commission should commence with a clearly defined target and purpose, under a time frame to produce that result – so that it doesn’t end up in the graveyard of previous commissions that failed to improve our nation’s finances.

A senior GOP senate aide tells NRO that the Biden commission “won’t make it past hello,” but said Obama’s GWU speech “was so far to the left, it left a vacuum in the middle for [Sens. Mark] Warner, [Saxby] Chambliss, and others,” to finish up their “Gang of Six” negotiations and come forward with a palatable bipartisan plan to reduce the deficit.