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July 27, 2011

Confession Of A Boehner Plan Skeptic

If you haven't read Gabe's piece in support of the Boehner Plan, it's well worth your time. It's also the jumping off point for this post.

For most of the day yesterday I was right there with Gabe. I thought Boehner's plan was the best we could do economically and politically. Cap, Cut and Balance wasn't resting, it wasn't pining for the fjords, it was and is...DEAD. We should congratulate the GOP for passing it, bank it as a campaign point and then face facts and move on.

Then the CBO score on Boehner appeared and I really regretted any support I offered. Forget the fight over whether it's 1.2 trillion in deficit cuts over 10 years or 800+billion neither number is terribly impressive in the overall scheme of things. No, what was truly awful was the projected $1 billion in deficit reduction from discretionary spending next year. Why's that important? Well, it's the only year that counts. The rest, the so called "out years" are promises and projects this Congress can't commit to delivering. Only next's years budget would be binding (well, as binding as anything in the federal budget is, which is not much).

$1 billion? That's not a cut, that's simply a decision to round down instead of up at some point.

How ridiculously small is that number? The Ryan Budget the House passed earlier this year would cut the deficit by $30 billion next year. So the Boehner Plan represents a surrender on what already got passed the House. Way to negotiate against yourself.

Even if the Boehner plan passed as is (or will be once they finish the rewrite, more about that in a second), there's no way the deficit will be cut by $1 billion next year. It's simply not a big enough number that it won't get swamped by "unexpected' increases in entitlement spending or "emergency" spending that will be added throughout the year.

As for the the $1+ trillion or $851 billion in cuts, depending on what baseline you want to use? Again, simply promises no one can actually commit to delivering. Meanwhile, the $1 trillion or so in new borrowing authority? Oh, that's very real and will definitely happen.

When it comes to "More borrowing now" vs. "Spending cuts in the out years", remember..."Out Years Are For Suckers". For that reason alone, Boehner's Plan as presented yesterday is a non-starter and should be defeated.

Now, this is where I get off the purity train...we are going to raise the debt ceiling. There's simply not enough time or political will to cut enough to avoid more borrowing to cover costs we've already committed to. And I'm simply not willing to risk default on the magical thinking that somehow that will only put pressure on Obama and Senate Democrats and they will suddenly embrace the tea party fiscal platform. That pressure will work both ways and likely force Republicans to cave. No, if you want Cut, Cap and Balance (plus real entitlement reform) you're going to need big wins next November, Even then it's kind of iffy but that's the prerequisite.

So, how do I a RINO sellout square the circle with my sudden brush with PURITY? I could support a Boehner type plan but the cuts have to be front loaded. It's not going to be all $1.1 trillion next year (though that would be great, it's just not an option) but it needs to be in the $100 billion plus range at a minimum. Yes, that's even more ambitious than the Ryan budget but two things...

1-It's a starting point. It's going to come down in any final deal. Starting a $1 billion gives you no where to go down to. Starting at say $200 billion, well, now we can deal.

2-The whole point of tying budget cuts to the debt ceiling hike is because we have some leverage. If you aren't going to use this moment of pressure to up the ante from what you could normally get, what exactly is the point of the exercise? Why not just pass a clean hike as always and move along?

The fact is this is political theater and not a moment of leverage. Boehner's back loaded plan is simply a way to try and give cover to GOP members who said 'I'll never vote for a hike in the debt ceiling!". Sorry but that was always a fundamentally unserious position.

We can't lock in more cuts than the amount of the debt hike, that's always been silly. Anyone who really thinks these plans are about $851 billion, $1.1 trillion or $2.2 trillion are just buying the hype. It's next year's number that matters. It won't be as big as the hike in the ceiling but it needs to be big and real. THAT would be a real victory. Let's see if that's what they come back with that in Bowhner 2.0. If so, I'm back on Team RINO. If not, book me a seat on the Purity Express.

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posted by DrewM. at 11:06 AM

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