I'm stumped by the politics of the deficit commission, for the Democrats. I'll lay out the situation, as I see it, and then throw the question open.
Here's the story. The commission has put off a final vote to Friday instead of taking a scheduled vote now, given that (according to the NYT) none of the 12 Members of Congress were prepared to vote for the commission plan. Since that's 12 of the 18 commission members, and 14 votes are needed to pass anything...well, at best that leaves the thing 8 votes short. Bingo!
So, a commission that's only purpose was to kick the can down the road past the election is now...stalling. Good fun! The lame duck Congress has no intention of doing any serious deficit reduction (to the contrary, of course; they're increasing the deficit problem by cutting taxes), and the incoming Congress has even less interest in doing any serious deficit reduction.
Look, it's important to remember one thing about this deficit commission. It needs 14 votes. Six of the 18 members are Republican politicians. Republican politicians are not going to vote for tax increases. End of story. Maybe, maybe, retiring GOP Senator Judd Gregg could have been open to a deficit reduction deal, but the other five? Not going to happen.
However, this does get to the interesting question, which is how the Democrats should deal with the situation. Should they try to get a deal they can live with, and vote for it, even though it's doomed?
On the one hand, supporting the commission report and having the Republicans block it would, one would think, help solidify the idea among those paying attention that Democrats are responsible on the budget and Republicans are not. Is that worth much? A little, perhaps. If elite-level deficit scolds really turned decisively against the GOP, there's a chance that would to some extent be helpful to Democrats.
It's also worth mentioning that while the commission's plan isn't exactly what mainstream liberals would like, it's probably close to a deal that they could live with -- and with Republican votes certainly not available, it's quite possible that Democrats could get quite a few concessions in exchange for their votes. And most mainstream Democrats do, I think, want to get the deficit down.
There's also the reality that this is Barack Obama's deficit commission, and it can end in one of two ways: "GOP blocks deficit reduction," or "Obama's commission fails." I don't want to make too much of one headline, but, you know, that's the situation.
On the other hand, Democrats have spent the last thirty years or so as deficit hawks, and it's hard to see that it's bought them any significant support from elite-level deficit scolds. Meanwhile, support for the commission plan would open Democrats to charges of raising taxes and cutting spending, neither of which is very popular. And given the overlap between elite-level deficit scolds and principled nonpartisanship, it's unlikely that the Broders of the world are going to make any decisive partisan turns, no matter how much one party does what they ask for and the other doesn't -- they're far more likely to throw up their hands and blame both sides.
There's also the frequent liberal complaint that Democrats are too willing to compromise. If there are to be other rounds of negotiations, liberals certainly wouldn't want to meet halfway between the commission plan and whatever it is that conservatives would go for.
I think overall that means that Dems on the commission should vote "no" -- but I'm not really sure about that. I should toss a caveat in somewhere...of course, this is a symbolic vote, not substantive, and we're not talking about anything that's going to make or break the economy or the 2012 elections. Still, six Democratic Members of Congress have to vote on this thing, one way or another. What should they do?