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Deficit commission's work is finished. What happens next?

A 60 percent majority on Obama's bipartisan deficit commission say they approved the co-chairs' recommendations, not enough to force a vote in Congress. Will their work have an impact?

By Staff writer / December 3, 2010

Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform co-chairmen Erskine Bowles (l.) and Alan Simpson, listen to remarks as the last session of the commission was held on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Dec. 3.

Harry Hamburg/AP

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Eleven out of 18 members of the president’s debt commission signaled their support for its recommendations Friday. That’s three short of the 14 needed to require a vote on the plan in Congress, but still more than expected – a 60 percent bipartisan majority.

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And that, commission members said Friday, shows that the plan is an important first step in addressing the nation’s unsustainable fiscal path.

“It’s now up to the members of Congress and the members of the administration ... to work together,” said the commission's Democratic co-chair, Erskine Bowles, a former Clinton White House chief of staff.

An unannounced trip Friday to Afghanistan by President Obama, plus a worse than expected jobs report, diverted attention from the fiscal commission’s final day. But in a statement, the president praised the commission’s effort and said that he and his economic team would “study closely” a number of specific proposals as they plan and budget for the coming year. He was not specific about which proposals he meant.

Deficit commission plan: Four points of contention – and agreement

“Jobs and growth are our most urgent need,” Mr. Obama’s statement said. “But if we want an America that can compete for the jobs of tomorrow, we simply cannot allow our nation to be dragged down by our debt. We must correct our fiscal course."

Friday morning, budget director Jack Lew invited the entire commission to meet with him and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to discuss the final report, Obama said.

Many reservations about plan

No member of the commission agreed with every aspect of the report, which laid out spending cuts and tax increases that would reduce deficits by nearly $4 trillion by 2020. And with most members, there seemed to be little difference between those voting yes and no, in terms of the number of reservations raised about various provisions. But perhaps most significantly, commissioners who are also members of Congress – including those who said they were voting no – have pledged to incorporate many of the proposals in legislation.

The question is whether such efforts will amount to anything more than Republicans proposing cuts in entitlements and discretionary nondefense spending and Democrats proposing tax increases and cuts in defense spending. The latest employment report, which showed barely any job creation and an increase in the unemployment rate to 9.8 percent, could hamper efforts to step back and deal with the longer-term debt and deficit emergency.

Among the commission members voting "yes," perhaps the most surprising were liberal Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, and Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Michael Crapo of Idaho, two of the Senate’s more conservative Republicans.

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