Power Centers

Deficit Panel's Fascinating Senate-House Split

John Spratt

Members of President Obama's fiscal responsibility panel on Dec. 3, 2010 applaud fellow member Rep. John Spratt  (D-SC) who is exiting Congress after his November defeat. Harry Hamburg/FR170004 AP hide caption

itoggle caption Harry Hamburg/FR170004 AP

What explains the difference between how the members of President Obama's deficit panel from the House and Senate voted?

While five of six senators on the panel voted to send the report on to the Senate for a vote, five of six House members voted against it.

The final vote was a relatively strong 11 to 7 bipartisan vote for sending the report to the Senate for its consideration.

It's unclear that it had anything to do with one chamber being less partisan than the other. Both are demonstrating fairly strict partisan behavior currently with Democrats and Republicans unwilling to agree on just about anything.

It could be that the senators were susceptible to the urgings of two of their party's long-time deficit hawks, Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who's leaving the Senate and Alan Simpson who retired from the Senate after representing Wyoming.

Republican House members had some fairly influential representatives on their side, too. Representatives Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the next House Budget Committee chairman; Jeb Hensarling of Texas, the head of the House Republican Conference, and David Camp of Michigan, the next House Ways and Means Committee chair are all Republican heavyweights.

But they were no votes because they said the plan would lead to more spending and more taxes while doing nothing to rein in health care costs. It could also have been House Republicans sending a message to Obama, the latest in a series, that they aren't going to make things easy for him. It was his commission after all.

There's at least one other possibility. The House generally doesn't trust the Senate. So it could be that the process was doomed from the start because 14 yes votes would have sent the report to the Senate for a floor vote, letting the upper chamber drive the process. That's not exactly a thrilling prospect for House members.

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