Friday, July 22, 2011

Timeline for a debt ceiling deal revealed but is a deal even possible?

The Washington Post says this is the timeline for passing legislation to end the debt ceiling crisis:

  • Sunday/Monday:  A deal will be announced by late Monday
  • Tuesday: House would debate the legislation
  • Wednesday: House would vote on the legislation—217 votes are required for the bill to pass
  • Wednesday Night: House bill will be sent to the Senate
  • Thursday: Senate debates the bill
  • Friday Morning: Cloture motion to cut off debate after 30 hours—Prevents filibuster—60 votes required to pass
  • Friday: Assuming cloture, Senate debates for 30 hours
  • Saturday afternoon:  Final vote.  51 votes required.  If legislation passes, it is sent to the president for signature.  If bill is amended, it goes back to House where Boehner would have three days to secure passage of the Senate version and avoid default.

So much for the timeline, but are the votes there?  Maybe not.

There are 435 members of the House with two vacancies.  That means 217 is that magic number—the minimum required to pass legislation and avoid a default. 

There are 240 Republicans in the House but 38 have signed a pledge NOT to vote for any debt ceiling increase.  That leaves Boehner with just 202 votes and he cannot count on all of them.  Some people think as many as 80 Republicans in the House may refuse to go along with any deal. 

Steve Benen at Washington Monthly says “part of the problem is that Republicans are losing the political fight, but don’t seem to care. It’s not as if the GOP’s Suicide Squad was starting to show signs of fatigue, and/or hinting at a willingness to give in. On the contrary, Republicans, especially in the House, are doing the opposite — digging in their heels, welcoming default, and rejecting calls to compromise.”  They are so radicalized that they are willing to crash the economy on purpose even if it costs the Republican Party and themselves seats in Congress in 2012.  See:

So the Republican vote count may be something like this:  240 – 80 = 160.  That leaves Boehner potentially short by 57 votes.  Those votes would have to come from Democrats.  There are 193 Democrats in the House, so 57 would have to vote with the Republicans to pass legislation.   That is certainly possible.

However, there are some problems.  A lot of Democrats in the House are unhappy with what they are hearing about any final deal.  The New York Times reported this about the deal:

[The] president and Mr. Boehner were moving ahead with their plan, aides said, trying to agree on matters like how much new revenue would be raised, how much would go to deficit reduction, how much to lower tax rates and, perhaps most critical, how to enforce the requirement for new tax revenue through painful consequences for both parties should they be unable to overhaul the tax code in 2012.

The White House wants a trigger that would raise taxes on the wealthy; Mr. Boehner wants the potential penalty for inaction to include repeal of the Obama health care law’s mandate that all individuals purchase health insurance after 2014.

Democrats read this and fear that Obama is going to agree to major cuts in Medicare and Social Security, deep cuts elsewhere and that any revenue increases will be minimum and delayed and  thus might never happen.  Benen express the Democrat frustration, particularly with the “trigger” idea:

They’re talking about “trigger” that would kick in if tax-reform efforts falter next year, intended to provide an incentive for policymakers to follow through. For the White House, the trigger would be the expiration of Bush-era tax rates for the wealthy; for the Speaker, the trigger would the elimination of the individual mandate.

But that’s crazy. The White House’s idea of a trigger would happen anyway since the Bush-era rates are due to expire at the end of next year. Boehner’s idea has nothing to do with the budget process and wouldn’t actually save any money.

Republicans are equally distrustful, fearing that the spending cuts won’t happen. 

There may be a big breakthrough over the weekend but I doubt it.  There are just too many alternative plans out there—Obama/Boehner, Gang of Six, Reid/McConnell—a no apparent momentum toward any one.

This is a real Washington mess and doesn’t seem to be getting any better.  The signs aren’t good people.  As crazy as it may be, the United States government may decide to voluntarily destroy its economy.  Sheer nuts.

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