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Why the Simpson-Bowles budget defeat isn't the end of the line

Simpson-Bowles is still the top bipartisan budget deal out there – and Congress may need it when it faces a showdown in December over the expiring Bush tax cuts and mandated spending cuts. 

By Staff writer / March 29, 2012

In this file photo, Erskine Bowles, left, accompanied by former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, co-chairmen of President Barack Obama's bipartisan deficit commission, take part in a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Alex Brandon/AP/File

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A budget plan based on the 2010 Simpson-Bowles proposal for cutting the nation’s debt and deficit was put to its first-ever vote in Congress Wednesday night after 14 months of languishing as something between a policy paper and a bipartisan pipe dream.

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It went down in flames.

The proposal, built from the work of a bipartisan commission established by President Obama to determine the best approach to America’s long-term financial challenges, was defeated 38 to 382. The plan attempts to cut the US deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade through a mix of spending cuts and higher taxes.

Still, the lopsided vote count may obscure the proposal’s potential to impact the debt debate.

“In order to achieve a big and balanced deficit-reduction package, we must build a broad consensus," said House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, in a statement. "The budget ... came to the floor before that broad consensus could be achieved, which is why I voted against it.”

“I continue to believe that the Bowles-Simpson model should be a basis for ongoing discussions in the effort to create the needed consensus," he added.

How could a plan that was so thoroughly creamed stay relevant? With a likely spending showdown looming in December, the plan's bipartisan bona fides make it worth pursuing, said Reps. Steven LaTourette (R) of Ohio and Jim Cooper (D) of Tennessee, the bill's sponsors, on the House floor and in interviews before the vote Wednesday.

Of the six other budget proposals before the House, ranging from plans by the arch-conservative Republican Study Committee to the Congressional Black Caucus, “there’s only one that’s bipartisan,” said Representative Cooper.

That fact is going to be important come December, when Congress will have to deal with a slew of critical financial issues, including the extension of the Bush tax cuts, the start of the spending-slashing sequester, the expiration of the payroll tax holiday, and another needed increase in the nation’s debt ceiling.

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