Much of the press coverage of Friday’s result from the President’s fiscal commission focused on the failure to get 14 of 18 votes for recommendations, the supermajority threshhold established by the President’s executive order. A commission created by executive order cannot legally bind either the President or Congress. 14 votes would have been nice, and it would have triggered a prior commitment by Senate Majority Leader Reid to bring the package to a floor vote in 2011. (Speaker Pelosi made a parallel commitment, which is now irrelevant given the party switch in the House.)

I think commission Chairman Erskine Bowles, a moderate Democrat former White House chief of staff to President Clinton, and Co-chairman Alan Simpson, a former Republican Senator from Wyoming, succeeded. Here is the final tally of support. This represents public statements rather than votes, since Bowles and Simpson never formally brought it to a vote.

The press reported the outcome as 11 for the recommendations and 7 against. This obscures the true result, which was a 4-11-3 split:

  • 4 opposed the recommendations from the left:
    • Sen. Max Baucus (D, Finance Committee Chairman)
    • Rep. Xavier Becerra (D)
    • Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D)
    • Andy Stern (D, President, SEIU)
  • 11 supported the recommendations:
    • Chairman Erskine Bowles (D, presidential appointee)
    • Senator Alan Simpson (R, presidential appointee)
    • David Cote (Honeywell Chairman/CEO, presidential appointee)
    • Alice Rivlin (D, presidential appointee)
    • Sen. Tom Coburn (R)
    • Sen. Kent Conrad (D, Budget Committee Chairman)
    • Sen. Mike Crapo (R)
    • Sen. Dick Durbin (D, Whip)
    • Ann Fudge (former CEO, presidential appointee)
    • Sen. Judd Gregg (R)
    • Rep. John Spratt (D, outgoing Budget Committee Chairman)
  • 3 opposed the recommendations from the right:
    • Rep. Dave Camp (R, incoming Ways & Means Committee Chairman)
    • Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R, incoming House Repubican Conference Chairman – #4 in leadership)
    • Rep. Paul Ryan (R, incoming Budget Committee Chairman)

That, dear readers, is a genuine bipartisan coalition. It was built by two moderates, Bowles and Simpson. I use “bipartisan” rather than “centrist” because it contains not just moderates like Bowles, Simpson, Rivlin, and Cote, but conservatives like Coburn and Crapo and, quite significantly, Durbin, a liberal and #2 in the Senate leadership. The failure to get 14 votes is far outweighed by this remarkable result.

I’m not at the moment addressing the substance of their recommendations, merely the misinterpretation of the strategic consequences of the result.

All eyes should now turn to President Obama. When he created this commission in January there were two schools of thought. The first was that he was genuinely attempting to plant the seeds of a future bipartisan compromise. The second was that he was cynically trying to punt the hard fiscal policy questions past a campaign year and the midterm election.

Whatever the President’s intent back then, this result now presents both opportunity and threat for the President. I’d bet heavily he is making his strategic decision this week or next. I’ll write more about that soon.

(photo credit: The White House)