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July 27, 2011

Boehner Plan Back to the Drawing Board

Speaker Boehner has rushed his bill back to the drawing board with the hope of re-writing its provisions to get better numbers out of the CBO. The bill is still tentatively scheduled for a vote tomorrow, but Boehner can lose only 23 Republicans before he has to find votes among the Democrats. Keep in mind that only 5 Democrats crossed the aisle for Cut, Cap, and Balance and none of them have spoken up in support of the latest Boehner plan. Somewhere in a Capitol Hill office, Senator Reid is doing a Snoopy happy dance.

So what happened with the numbers? Boehner promised that his bill would increase the debt ceiling by less than it cut spending. So his numbers were $800 billion for the debt ceiling and $1.2 trillion in cut spending. But that cut was only relative to the January 2011 baseline, which had been used up until now in the debt ceiling talks. Unfortunately for Boehner, that baseline is out of date.

The March CBO baseline is more recent and current than the January one, and it makes sense to use that one now, even if the Biden talks and subsequent negotiations used an earlier baseline (which led the architects of this bill, working off their prior efforts, to do the same). Republicans are right, therefore, to be re-writing their bill to match the later baseline. ...Democrats have just realized that the Reid bill, which the White House is backing, has made the same mistake, so that Reidís cuts would also be scored as lower than its authors claim by CBO (probably at exactly the same level as the original Boehner bill). With House Republicans accepting CBOís correction and re-writing their bill with deeper cuts to suit the later CBO baseline, Reidís bill suddenly becomes a much weaker player in all this unless he also makes deeper cuts, which the Democrats are obviously not inclined to do. In that sense, this baseline confusion could well strengthen Boehnerís hand.

One can only hope. Because it's still the only other game in town. Purists insist that the Cut, Cap, and Balance plan that passed the House (thank you, Speaker Boehner) is still viable, though Reid shot it down in the Senate, but there is no reason to believe that is the case. The Senate won't vote for it and the President won't sign it. And leveraging the threat of economic calamity isn't changing that.

What might change that particular stalemate would be to push past the August 2 (or is it August 10?) deadline, let our AAA rating be lost, let federal disbursements be disrupted, and use the actual economic calamity as leverage for CCB and the Balanced Budget Amendment. That is the strategy that the purists are suggesting now. Of course, there's no reason to believe that Republicans will not be blamed in whole or in part for this "Let it Burn" plan and it has the smell of desperation about it. While it may be fun to imagine using economic Armageddon to get everything we want without having to compromise on anything, they're playing with people's lives and livelihoods in a particularly cynical and unprincipled manner.

Like it or not, Republicans only control one half of one branch of government. As long as that's the case, the range of possible options on the debt ceiling issue is between Speaker Boehner on the Right and President Obama on the Far Left. In a better world, one where Republicans have control of Congress and the White House, the range of possible options would be better---between Jim DeMint on the Far Right and Speaker Boehner on the Right. I'd like to live in that world, and I know you would too. So, for the love of Pete, can we please concentrate on getting there? Say, perhaps, by racking up some victories against President Obama?

Republicans have the opportunity for a small victory here. They get to moderately restrain spending, put the President in the hot seat, and lay the ground work for a Balanced Budget Amendment vote. Small victories lead to larger victories.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 08:05 AM

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