New Debt Committee Is a Little Like BRAC

Posted August 2, 2011 at 6:19pm

The idea of a fast-tracked Congressional vote on deficit reduction that would be forced by the forthcoming Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction is not entirely unprecedented. But the committee does appear to have more power than any preceding Congressional panel.

The plan enacted Tuesday mirrors a failed 2010 proposal from Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and then-Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). That committee would have forced an up-or-down vote — without amendment — on a deficit reduction plan put forth by a group of lawmakers, similar to what the recently passed debt deal requires.

Unlike Tuesday’s deal, however, the Conrad-Gregg plan lacked a sequestration process, or trigger, designed to compel lawmakers to avoid a stalemate. Now, absent an affirmative deal, defense and domestic programs including Medicare will face an automatic $1.2 trillion spending cut starting in 2013.

Both plans were based on the successful efforts of a commission created in 1990 that was tasked with closing military bases. The independent Base Realignment and Closure commissions have had the ability to force a fast-tracked Congressional vote on enactment of a plan to close several bases. But those base closures became law unless Congress passed a resolution of disapproval.

Under the new law, Congress must vote affirmatively to enact the deficit reduction plan and will have no opportunity to amend it.

Much like the budget reconciliation process, the plan would have a fast track to the floor with limited debate, prohibiting the use of a filibuster — meaning a simple majority is all that is needed in the Senate to pass it. However, during reconciliation, several relevant committees work together to find savings, and there are several restrictions on what can be in the bill. Here, the joint committee will be operating on its own with few restrictions.