Here we go again.
Intransigence from Republicans basically kept us out of a grand bargain last year. Plenty of Democrats were willing to do it, the White House was more than willing to do it, and even John Boehner was willing to do it, at least on a conceptual level. But House Republicans wouldn’t betray their tax pledge and so it didn’t happen.
There are some different dynamics to the next round of the grand bargain. There are still enough Democrats willing to deal, led by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. The White House has de-emphasized a deficit deal, but their budget still shows a blueprint for one, and if they get revenue in exchange, they’ve stated openly that they would make cuts to Medicare and other social programs. So is there a new willingness on the Republican side? According to The Hill, Republicans have joined a bipartisan working group that is preparing a document on deficit reduction.
A small, bipartisan group of lawmakers in both the House and Senate are secretly drafting deficit grand bargain legislation that cuts entitlements and raises new revenue.
Sources said that the task of actually writing the bills is well underway, but core participants in the regular meetings do not yet know when the bills can be unveiled.
The core House group of roughly 10 negotiators is derived from a larger Gang of 100 lawmakers led by Reps. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Health Shuler (D-N.C.), who urged the debt supercommittee to strike a grand bargain last year.
That larger group includes GOP centrists like Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), who has said Republicans should abandon their no-new-tax-revenue pledge, as well as Tea Party-backed members like Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.).
What’s interesting is that this is originating from the House. You would expect something to build on the Gang of Six in the Senate, which included Republicans. But a back-channel process in the House shows a new receptivity. Apparently this is linked to a Gang of Six process over in the Senate as well.
I don’t think we’re going to see any actual movement on this until after the election. But the lame duck presents a number of dangers for those who don’t want to see cuts to social safety net benefits. First of all, you have a mountain of expiring measures, most of which have to do with the deficit. The Bush tax cuts, the payroll tax cut, extended unemployment insurance, the doc fix and the triggered cuts to discretionary and defense spending all expire at the end of the year. So something impacting the deficit will have to get negotiated out at that time. And the lame duck session represents the moment of lowest accountability for the Congress. Many of these lawmakers won’t be coming back, and voters won’t get to weigh in for another two years. So the secret austerity society meetings are designed, in my view, to come up with off-the-shelf legislation that can be pulled during the lame duck to substitute for the expiring measures. The anonymous sources disclosing this to The Hill as much as admit this: “A source close to the effort said the focus is on drafting now, and negotiators will address when to unveil the result later.” Mike Simpson, the House Republican leading the way on this, claims that they aren’t waiting until the lame duck, but the fact that they’re not trying to work through the budget process makes their intent pretty obvious.
The fact that Heath Shuler, who’s retiring this year, is leading the way on this from the Democratic side tells you all you need to know from the Democratic perspective.
This doesn’t mean that a lame duck deficit grand bargain will succeed – some of the barriers from the debt limit deal still exist (particularly the no-tax pledge). But it means that those who want it to happen have a plan. I’m not sure those defenders of the safety net left in Congress have a plan of their own.