President Obama's fiscal commission approved a plan today to cut federal deficits by $3.9 trillion over the next decade, providing momentum for fiscal austerity without gaining the super-majority needed to prompt immediate congressional action.The split decision forged some strange political alliances: Stalwart conservative Sen. Tom Coburn joined Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin in voting yes, while Tea Party hero Rep. Paul Ryan was in the "no" column, alongside former SEIU president Andy Stern and socialized healthcare advocate Rep. Jan Schakowsky.
The 11-7 vote was a pleasant surprise for those advocating tough action against the mounting $13.7 trillion national debt, even in the face of opposition from liberal and seniors' groups opposed to Medicare and Social Security cuts and conservatives opposed to raising taxes.
The bipartisan composition of the panel and its dire warnings about the unsustainability of the current national direction has almost erased the tendency of the media over the last several years to ignore the spiraling debt. It has also forced both parties to start considering policies to reverse course, although both parties have different paths in doing so. The lack of supermajority agreement on the Bowles-Simpson plan doesn’t mean a defeat for debt reduction at all.