Moderate and conservative Democrats want to empower an outside entitlement commission to reshape major domestic spending programs like Medicare and Social Security, and they're threatening a truly nuclear option to get their way. If Congress does not create this commission, they say, they will vote against must-pass legislation to raise the nation's debt ceiling, which would trigger a default, and, perhaps, economic calamity.
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"I will not vote for raising the debt limit without a vehicle to handle this," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told McClatchy. "This is our moment."
On the one hand, the threat is so outlandish as to be self-defeating. Would Democrats really extract such a devastating toll, both on their own political fortunes, but also on the national and global economy, just to prove that they're serious about entitlement reform?
But on the other hand, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may not want to rock the boat too hard in the midst of a health care debate in which Democrats are hanging their political fortunes on many of the same centrist senators making the threat. And the Obama administration has been broadly supportive of the idea of reining in deficits and paying down the national debt for some time now.
So it seems fairly likely that, whether this commission passes in the form deficit hawks would like to see, debt reduction will be a key theme, both at the White House and on Capitol Hill, after the fight over health care is over.