Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer presented their plan for how to deal with the debt limit, which they expect to introduce in the Senate ASAP. And now that we have more of the details, I really don’t know what the two parties are arguing over at this point. Because the Reid plan and the Boehner plan are substantially similar, for one main reason: Reid’s plan includes a “Super Congress,” a 12-member, bicameral, bipartisan “Catfood Commission II” that would deliver recommendations for further deficit reduction by the end of the year. This is the copy directly from the two-page draft release, which Brian Beutler helpfully tweeted:
Establishes Joint Congressional Committee to Find Future Savings: In addition to $2.7 trillion in concrete savings, the Senate package will establish a joint, bipartisan committee, made up of 12 members, to present options for future deficit reduction. The committee’s recommendations will be guaranteed an up-or-down Senate vote, without amendments, by the end of 2011.
That means no filibuster and no amendments. So 12 members of Congress would make the kind of decisions that all members should have a hand in making.
Obviously, this isn’t a total slam dunk. That passage is annoyingly vague. It doesn’t say whether there’s an actual target number for deficit savings. It doesn’t say whether the savings would have to come from taxes or spending. It doesn’t say what happens if the committee just deadlocks, 6-6, along party lines. And the recommendations could always be defeated in the House or Senate. I would doubt all of that, actually: I would expect some, if not all, of the Gang of Six to be put on this commission, and that their vision for deficit reduction would become the template.
But that’s a discussion for another day. As I said, I don’t know what we’re arguing about anymore. The Reid plan has $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending cuts, based on the Biden talks. The Boehner plan has $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending cuts. The Reid plan defers future deficit reduction to a bipartisan commission. The Boehner plan defers future deficit reduction to a bipartisan commission.
There are only a few differences:
1) The Reid plan scores the $1 trillion in savings from drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was part of the Republican budget, but I don’t think it’s part of the Boehner plan.
2) The Reid plan has $100 billion in mandatory spending cuts, mainly from reducing fraud and abuse in disability and health care fraud; strengthening IRS enforcement; reforms to Fannie and Freddie (not sure what that’s about); sale of spectrum; and reforms to Ag subsidies. I think these were mainly agreed to in the Biden talks as well.
3) The Reid plan increases the debt limit through the end of 2012 up front; the Boehner plan holds back some of the increase until the result of their Catfood Commission II.
So really we’re talking about the timing of the debt limit increase, and that’s virtually it.
There’s almost nothing truly different between the House and Senate plans. They both are extremely perilous for the future of the safety net, take the wrong position on what we should be doing right now (austerity instead of job creation) and will probably have a material negative impact on the economy.
Like I said at the beginning of the week on Twitter, if you think politics is like a sport, and don’t care about the real implications for millions of people, this should be a fun week.
UPDATE: Now that I’m seeing the Boehner plan, there are some additional differences:
1) The Boehner plan requires another doomed vote on a balanced budget amendment;
2) The Boehner version of the Catfood Commission II has a defined target of $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction;
3) The Boehner plan includes a spending cap with automatic across-the-board cuts if the cap is breached.
Obviously a spending cap is a terrible idea. But it’s a sop to his base, a chip to be traded. Take it away and you have the same basic plan as Reid’s.
UPDATE II: And now the White House has come out for the Reid plan. Here’s the statement from Press Secretary Jay Carney:
The President has been advocating a balanced plan that would reduce our deficit by $4 trillion by making large cuts in domestic and Pentagon spending, reforming entitlement programs, and closing tax loopholes for corporations, millionaires and billionaires. This sort of approach won support from Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, but the House Republicans walked away after insisting that the budget be balanced on the backs of seniors and the middle class.
Now, faced with the “my way or the highway,” short-term approach of the House Republicans, Senator Reid has put forward a responsible compromise that cuts spending in a way that protects critical investments and does not harm the economic recovery. All the cuts put forward in this approach were previously agreed to by both parties through the process led by the Vice President. Senator Reid’s plan also reduces the deficit more than enough to meet the contrived dollar-for-dollar criteria called for by House Republicans, and, most importantly, it removes the cloud of a possible default from our economy through 2012. The plan would make a meaningful down payment in addressing our fiscal challenge, and we could continue to work together to build on it with a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes additional spending reforms and closing tax loopholes for corporations, millionaires and billionaires.
Senator Reid’s plan is a reasonable approach that should receive the support of both parties, and we hope the House Republicans will agree to this plan so that America can avoid defaulting on our obligations for the first time in our history. The ball is in their court.