30 Dec 2010

Sorting Deficit Hawks from Deficit Albatrosses in the U.S. Senate

Through the recent tax bill vote and through reactions to the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan, we are able to begin sorting the “Deficit Hawks” from the “Deficit Albatrosses” in Congress.  We’ll start today with the Senate deficit hawks.

December’s compromise tax bill raises deficits on both ends — decreased tax rates and increased spending.  Only 19 Senators and 148 Representatives voted against this Deeper Deficit Bill, as it might be called.  Also in December, the Simpson-Bowles Debt Panel released its final recommendations — many spending cuts with some tax increases.  While Congress as a whole has not been forced to vote on Simpson-Bowles, a number of Congressmen and -women have availed themselves of the opportunity to support it or to denounce it.

The good news is that at least 25 Senators out of 100 have now taken tough stands for cutting the deficit (not counting those leaving office next week, and not counting a couple of maybe’s).  The bad news is that 75 Senators have not.  More bad news is that only three Senators both voted against the Deeper Deficit Bill AND publicly support Simpson-Bowles as a basis for cutting the deficit.  (Other realistic balanced-budget plans would be fine, but in my view, no one in Congress has one that is realistic, because either they underestimate entitlement growth, or they propose top Federal income tax rates well north of 50 percent, or both.)  Those three outstanding Senators are Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

More good news is if Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) are successful in their joint effort to pass a long-term budget plan in 2011, many more Senators might be drawn into their camp, which is citing Simpson-Bowles as its basis.  So far, Chambliss, Warner, and sixteen other Senators have pledged to try to draw up a plan, in addition to three more Senators who sat on the Simpson-Bowles Panel and voted in favor of the chairmen’s proposals.

Below is a list of these 25 promising Senators, with notes on (a) who voted No on the tax cut compromise (“No Deeper Deficit Bill”), (b) who voted for the Simpson-Bowles Panel on their panel (“S-B”), and (c) who has signed up with Warner and Chambliss on the basis of Simpson-Bowles (“W-Ch”).  Below those are notes on two Senators I’m not sure about, and a few “No” votes who seem too far either to the right or to the left to vote in favor of any realistic balanced budget plan down the road.  In many cases of No votes, links are provided for elaboration of the respective Senator’s explanations.

Here is the roll call Senate vote on the recent Tax Compromise / Deeper Deficit Bill.  Here is the 11-7 Simpson-Bowles internal panel vote.  And hereare the 16 Senators plus Warner and Chambliss pledging to push deficit reduction in 2011.

1. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), W-Ch

2. Mark Begich (D-Alaska). W-Ch

3. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), W-Ch

4. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), 2012, No Deeper Deficit Bill, explanation

5. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), W-Ch

6. Tom Coburn (R-OK), No Deeper Deficit Bill, S-B, explanation

7. Kent Conrad, (D-N.D.), S-B

8. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.),  W-Ch

9. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho),  S-B, W-Ch

10. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), S-B

11. John Ensign (R-NV), No Deeper Deficit Bill, explanation

12. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), W-Ch

13. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), No Deeper Deficit Bill, W-Ch

14. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), W-Ch

15. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), W-Ch

16. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), No Deeper Deficit Bill, explanation

17. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), W-Ch

18. Jean Shaheen (D-N.H.), W-Ch

19. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), W-Ch

20. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), W-Ch

21. Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), W-Ch

22. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), No Deeper Deficit Bill, W-Ch

23. Tom Udall (D-NM), No Deeper Deficit Bill, explanation
24. Mark Warner, W-Ch

25. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), No Deeper Deficit Bill, W-Ch

Two opponents of the Deeper Deficits Bill who might support something like Simpson-Bowles:
Bernie Sanders (I-VT), explanation
Jeff Sessions (R-AL), unknown

Six opponents of the Deeper Deficits Bill who might prove to be Deficit Albatrosses, either because they refuse enough spending cuts, or alternatively any tax increases, in cases of Democrats and Republicans, respectively:

Jim DeMint (R-SC), adamant about tax cuts

Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), not much about cutting spending

Tom Harkin (D-IA), explanation
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), explanation

Carl Levin (D-MI),  explanation

Jeff Merkley (D-OR), explanation
(Note: I have NOT researched these or the remaining Senators for explicit condemnation of Simpson-Bowles, as some in Congress have issued, for example Nancy Pelosi.)

Three Senate opponents of the Deeper Deficits Bill, and one Simpson-Bowles Panel Senator “yes” vote, are leaving the Senate, with replacements unknown or hostile to realistic balanced budgets.

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7 thoughts on “Sorting Deficit Hawks from Deficit Albatrosses in the U.S. Senate”

  1. Getting some control over spending and the deficit makes sense. As usual, the devil is in the details. My understanding is that most economists are concerned about long term debt, but don't oppose deficit spending now to help nudge the economy and reduce unemployment. That is the sentiment expressed in the final S-B report as well (http://www.fiscalcommission.gov/sites/fiscalcommission.gov/files/documents/TheMomentofTruth12_1_2010.pdf; see page 12).

    What S-B proposes seems generally reasonable on first impression (http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/11/deficit-commission-co-chairs-simpson-and-bowles-release-eye-popping-recommendations.php). However, it would be helpful if some of the S-B provisions were better explained.

    For example, the final S-B report recommends changes to the mortgage tax deduction (pages 30 and 31 of the final report). That is OK if it doesn't significantly affect the price of housing. If it did, then a phase out of the deduction over time (maybe 30 years) would soften the blow. It is not clear to me how that proposed change would be implemented (immediately or over time) or what impact on home values it would have (trivial, modest or very large). These are the things that need to be explained to the public in an unbiased and clear manner. If that happens, I suspect that most Americans would go along with much of what S-B proposes. If proposed changes aren't explained honestly and clearly, I suspect that most people would oppose most of it (including me). Transparency and honesty are critical and necessary. Everyone deserves to know exactly how big a hit they are going to take.

    1. Pragmatist, good idea. I'll try to do a post summarizing Simpson-Bowles in the next week or two. Some effects per economic group are pretty clear. Others depend a whole lot on the context of economic developments. I'll try to parse out the effects as well as the plans.

      1. Jeff,

        This situation represents one of the common things that I find galling about our politics. Here we are in a situation where us outsiders need to sit around and scratch our heads and speculate about the actual, real-world impact of important policies. The S-B final report itself should clearly spell out the impacts and show how those impacts were calculated. The S-B commission had the resources, inside knowledge and expertise to do that, but they didn't. Why?

        It just isn't fair or respectful to the public that people like you need to do an impact analysis that they should have done. This is the exact reason I did not support Obamacare, even though something like it was desperately needed and even though it was obvious that the Republican party would never, ever consider any meaningful reforms in health care. I tried to read and understand the Obamacare bill but could not. I did not, and still do not, know what its cost-benefit profile looks like. Not understanding important proposed legislation might be OK if I trusted the competence and honesty of the two-party system. But since I don't, it isn't. It is good of you to try to figure it out. Thanks.

        1. You're welcome. The even bigger problem, I think, is the media. We either get superficial he-said she-said coverage from MSM (mainstream media) wanting to be everything and sell every issue to everyone. Or we get such biased coverage from the obvious outlets that it can't be trusted to cover all points, although sometimes it at least points stuff out that the MSM glosses over or misses.

  2. It is time to usher in the New Year with a warm welcome to the Senate – a ground swell of support for the Simpson-Bowles recommendations should welcome each Senator to his or her office in 2011. The email barrage should specifically request their support of the "complete package" less the proposal end up in the trash heap of Washington due to endless bickering over each line item in the proposal. "Bipartisan support" and "compromise" should be the language of engagement to deal with our fiscal crises as well as our on-going social needs. Thomas B. Kelly, Maui, Hawaii

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