The Morning Line: Fiscal Commission Set to Unveil Plan, Delay Vote

BY David Chalian and Terence Burlij  December 1, 2010 at 8:18 AM EDT

The Morning Line

Wednesday was supposed to be the day that the members of President Obama’s fiscal commission released its plan to rein in the country’s debt and deficits and voted on it.

The first part will still happen Wednesday, according to commission co-chairmen Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. They said at a news conference Tuesday they will go ahead with the unveiling of a final package that is expected to include provisions that would cut Social Security benefits for future retirees, raise the retirement age to 69 by 2075, curb a variety of tax breaks, including the mortgage interest deduction, and increase the federal gasoline tax by 15 cents per gallon.

Bowles and Simpson said, however, they would delay a vote on the plan until Friday in order to give the other 16 members of the commission, including a dozen current House and Senate lawmakers, more time to go through the package and decide whether they could support it.

Bowles, the North Carolina Democrat who was chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton, told reporters Tuesday the goal of the process had been “to start an adult conversation here in Washington about the dangers of this debt and the deficits we are facing.”

“I don’t know if we’re going to get two votes or five votes or 10 votes or 14 votes,” Bowles said, before adding: “There are enough reasons to vote no in this plan for anybody to vote no.”

Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, said time was running out to do something about the country’s fiscal mess. “I think that there is one clear thread in this complex tapestry of debt, deficit and interest, and that is that — this, and that is: America, you have a serious problem, and time is short to address it,” Simpson warned.

The plan remains a tough sell with Democrats on the commission who oppose reductions in federal programs for seniors, such as Social Security and Medicare. Republicans, meanwhile, object to any tax increases. Both sides appear unwilling to give on those points, which means the proposal seems destined to fall short of the 14-member supermajority it would need to trigger an up-or-down vote in the Congress before the end of the year.

REPLACING STEELE

Michael Steele, the embattled chairman of the Republican National Committee, has yet to announce whether or not he will seek a second term, but that hasn’t stopped the race to replace him from taking shape.

The first cattle call for the candidates seeking (or thinking about seeking) the chairmanship of the RNC is set to take place in Washington today.

In a sign that the Tea Party political muscle on vivid display during the Republican primary season this year is now aimed at helping shape the national party structure, the event is being hosted by FreedomWorks, the conservative and Tea Party aligned group headed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and the Republican National Conservative Caucus.

Confirmed participants include: Michigan national committeeman Saul Anuzis, former RNC member from Missouri Ann Wagner, Connecticut GOP Chairman Chris Healy, and former Bush administration official Maria Cino.

The candidate forum is set to take place from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET and will be live streamed here.

On Thursday, the candidates will be behind closed doors in private discussions with the host organizations. Politico’s Jonathan Martin reports that Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus is expected to attend the private meetings on Thursday as he continues to seriously mull a bid for national chairman.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele is not expected to attend Wednesday’s forum.

MURRAY’S MISSION

The last time Sen. Patty Murray chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the 2002 cycle, Democrats went from majority status to minority status in the United States Senate.

The Washington State senator who just emerged from her own tough reelection battle clearly hopes history does not repeat itself.

“Senate Republicans made clear only days after the last election that defeating President Obama was the top priority. My top priority, and the top priority of Senate Democrats, is to create jobs and get the economy moving again. That’s a clear difference, and serves as great motivation. Maintaining a Democratic majority is the best way to accomplish that goal,” Murray said in a statement in which she clearly sets the bar at majority or bust.

The map is certainly a tough one. There are 23 Democratic (or Democratic aligned independents) seats up in 2012 compared with only 10 Republican seats. The playing turf is also rough, as Democrats will find themselves defending territory they won in a wave of anti-Republican, anti-Bush voter sentiment in 2006. Holding on to Democratic seats in states like Montana, Virginia, and Missouri will be critical to Sen. Murray’s efforts at maintaining a Democratic majority.

“It’s critical that we have an experienced, strong hand steering the DSCC. Patty Murray is that person, and the entire caucus appreciates her decision to take this role,” said Sen. Reid in a statement announcing Sen. Murray’s new role.