Several members said it was unclear whether the commission, to be chaired by Vice President Biden, will become the source of a bipartisan deal on cutting the deficit or simply serve as a diversion while an agreement is quietly negotiated elsewhere. That’s what happened in December, when public talks on Capitol Hill over extending Bush-era tax cuts were a cover for back-door negotiations, led by Biden, that ultimately yielded a deal.

“Well, I guess we’ll have to ask the vice president the answer to that question. The jury’s still out,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.