If and when health care passes, the White House and the Congress will be tugged in two seemingly different directions. On the one hand, with unemployment in the double digits (and an election around the corner), Democrats will have to do something about jobs--and that means another spending bill. The House has already begun its work and the Senate will have to follow suit if the economy is to improve, and if Democrats want to avoid a political blood bath. But the White House, and a bipartisan bloc in the Senate, have made very clear that they'll pay equal, or greater, attention to addressing the country's perilous fiscal situation. And that could touch off yet another tug of war between liberal Democrats and centrist legislators over the country's priorities.
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Last month, liberals were taken by surprise when a number of senators--including several Democrats--issued a chilling ultimatum: let us tinker with entitlement programs and taxes, they said, or we'll block raising the amount of debt the government can take on. According to Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), 11 or 12 senators have said they will not vote for must-pass legislation to raise the country's debt ceiling unless they are authorized to create an external commission with extraordinary power over Medicare, Social Security and so on.
This week, Conrad and several of his supporters unveiled their proposal, and it turns out, liberals may have had less to worry about than it seemed at first blush. Not because the members of the commission would like to be gentle to American welfare programs, but because its authors seem to have set it up to fail.