Republicans on Wednesday branded the White House deal with Democrats on a budget deficit commission as a "nothing burger" because it wouldn't require votes on how to stem the red ink.
A tentative agreement would let President Barack Obama name the 18-member bipartisan commission. It would seek a compromise on the tax increases and spending cuts needed to tackle the deficit, which reached $1.4 trillion last year and could climb this year.
A stronger approach backed by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., would require Congress to pass legislation setting up the commission and require a vote on deficit-cutting recommendations if at least 14 panel members could agreed on a plan. But there isn't enough support in the House or Senate to pass this version of a commission, given opposition from the right and left.
Under the alternative proposed Tuesday by Democrats, Obama would set up the commission by presidential order. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would guarantee a vote this year after the November elections.
Gregg, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, attacked the Democratic initiative as a "nothing burger," given the absence of a law compelling a vote in the Senate. Citing the Senate's freewheeling rules, he dismissed Reid's promise and contended the offer was a cynical ploy to make it look like Democrats would do something about the deficit without really doing anything.
"Harry Reid said, 'I guarantee you a vote. My word's my bond,'" said the House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C. He attended Tuesday's meeting involving Vice President Biden and top Democrats, including Pelosi and Reid.
Gregg contended that Democratic leaders and the White House haven't really bought into the idea. Yet his own party leader in the Senate has turned against Gregg's proposal after endorsing it in Senate speeches last year. The reversal by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., coincided with word that anti-tax activists such as Americans for Tax Reform's Grover Norquist was opposed.
The deficit commission would be part of a deal that also would achieve a goal long sought by House Democrats: passage of a law that would make it far more difficult for lawmakers to run up the deficit with new tax cuts and benefit programs.
Under pay-as-you-go budgeting, offsetting cuts or revenue increases must be found to pay for new policies, or across-the-board spending cuts would hit selected programs such as farm subsidies and Medicare.
There are exceptions, such as middle-class tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003.
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