The proposal from North Dakota’s Democrat Sen. Kent Conrad offered up a realistic solution for putting the nation’s fiscal house in order — setting up a bipartisan "fiscal task force" to rein in the deficit by giving Congress political cover to make unpopular spending cuts. The task force had the president’s support and bipartisan appeal, including a Republican co-sponsor, Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.
But that wasn’t good enough. On Tuesday, the Senate failed to pass the measure. Fifty-three senators — 16 Republicans and 37 Democrats, among them Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken — voted for the measure. But that was seven short of the 60 needed to adopt it. Twenty-three Republicans and 23 Democrats voted against the task force. (One senator didn't vote)
Conrad, in a statement, put a positive spin on the defeat and said he hopes that the fiscal task force idea will someday become a reality. "Today, the Senate spoke and a majority of Senators called for change," said Conrad, who is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. "The good news is that this vote sends a clear signal that the Senate wants a special process to address our country’s burgeoning debt ... And with the President’s continued support, we know our effort will succeed. Maybe not today, but there is great hope that a commission-like approach will be adopted, sooner rather than later."
Here’s hoping he’s right. Congress talks a good game about making hard choices and balancing the nation’s books. The talk is rarely backed up with action, which is why the nation’s deficit is skyrocketing and Medicare, the health care program for seniors, faces insolvency before the decade is out. The task force — an 18-member panel comprised of Congressional representatives from both parties as well as administration officials — would have taken the heat over for unpopular but much-needed cuts. In other words, something actually would gotten done.
Congress still would have voted on the panel’s recommended cuts, but opponents claimed the task force usurped legislators’ power. Political leaders, they argued, can and should tackle these challenges. With the task force proposal defeated, now’s the time for those leaders to step forward. Voters are rightfully concerned about the nation’s maxed-out Visa card. They’re hungry for solutions, not rhetoric.