Budget Deficit Commission

The Senate votes today on a plan that would set up a special independent panel to come up with comprehensive plans to turn around the federal government's spiraling budget deficits, with a process modeled on past military base closure commissions.

The idea won the weekend support of President Obama, who had initially resisted calls to back it.

"The only way to solve our long-term fiscal challenge is to solve it together - Democrats and Republicans," the President said in a written statement.

"These deficits did not happen overnight, and they won't be solved overnight. We not only need to change how we pay for policies, but we also need to change how Washington works."

The plan was introduced by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), a past Chairman of that same panel.

"We do need to have a comprehensive plan to deal with the unsustainable nature of our debt," said Conrad, who often raises issues about spending, but finds his leadership leaning on him to open the pursestrings.

Members of both parties object to the idea for much different reasons.

Many Republicans don't want to sign on, arguing that tax increases and extra revenues should not be part of any solution on the deficit.

Some Democrats, like Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), think such a commission is a complete mistake, arguing that it wrongly takes major spending powers away from the Legislative Branch.

The idea is based on the military base closure process, where a special panel develops a plan, and then it goes before the Congress for a vote - no amendments - just a final vote.

The fact that it is being seriously discussed is a sign that Congress understands how screwed up things are with the budget, and that it will take an extraordinary process to get things back in order.

Think about it - we went from budget surpluses in the last three years of the Clinton Administrations to record deficits at the end of the Bush years, to a deficit last year that was three times as much as the previous record, at $1.42 trillion.

And so far this year, the last time I checked, the deficit was 17% worse than a year ago.  That will put the Obama Administration on course to obliterate the levels of deficit added by the Bush Administration in just two years.

Add to that the politically tricky issue of entitlements, with Medicare and Social Security heading towards bankruptcy.

It would be nice to think both parties could find a way to deal with the budget.  But right now, you could cut out every program except the Pentagon, Medicare and Social Security, and there still would be a deficit.

That's how bad things are right now.