Monday, July 18, 2011

UPDATE: Histrionics, posturing and finally this weekend Congress will raise the debt ceiling

CQ Roll Call Briefing says all the players in the Washington debt ceiling crisis game have now come to the realization that regardless of what they may have said in the past, the debt ceiling must be raised.  As I reported earlier, the Reid/McConnell plan will be adopted.  CQ says as it stands now...

[The plan]would allow the debt ceiling to rise by $2.5 trillion (to $16.8 trillion) in three installments — meaning the next existential borrowing crisis would be the problem of the next Congress and the winner of the next presidential election. It would allow Republicans to vote three times before Election Day to prevent the new borrowing — and require Democrats to come up with enough votes in their ranks to keep the bond sales going. And it would create a panel of a dozen lawmakers and tell them to write a deficit-reduction plan — without any preconditions about entitlements or taxes or even a specific monetary target — by the end of this year or early next year. Congress would then have to accept or reject the proposal without amendment, assuring more defining votes on fiscal policy on which both sides could campaign next year.

The initial Reid-McConnell offering, however, is likely to be silent on spending cuts, allowing House Republicans to claim credit for adding perhaps $1.5 trillion in savings during the next decade (from domestic and defense appropriations, mainly) from the menu assembled at the Biden summit. Such a vote to amend the bill would be another opportunity for GOP members to say they did something good before holding their noses and voting “yes”.

Congress could just take a vote on the plan and get it over with but that’s not how Washington works, so we are going to have one more week of game playing and political posturing before those who have sworn they would not raise the debt ceiling hold their noses and do so.

House vote next weekend

First, Republicans have to do their “Cut, Cap and Balance” song and dance in the House for the Tea Party folks back home.  CQ notes:

That trifecta is a mantra of the tea party movement, and so it’s become the new unifying rally cry for Republicans. And so this week’s scheduled House recess has been canceled solely to give the proposal its day in the headlines — and thereby give a measure of comfort (and political cover) to the most important 121 people in Washington these days: The not-one-vote-extra majority of Republicans who will soon be required to scrunch up their noses and vote for the final higher-debt, lower-deficit deal.

A bare majority of the majority will have to vote “yes” in order to bring along a similarly razor-thin majority of the minority. If 97 Democrats back the final bill, that would give it 218 votes (actually one more than necessary, because two of the 435 House seats will still be vacant, so a majority of the occupied seats will be 217.)

That vote will probably not come until next weekend in order to give Republicans posturing time in front of the cameras.

Senate vote Friday

CQ says the path to passage is easier in the Senate since Democrats plus a few Republicans are enough for a filibuster-proof majority.  CQ says 45 to 48 Democrats (out of 53) will join 15 to 25 Republicans (out of 47) to pass the Reid/McConnell package.  First, the Senate will take a vote on a balanced-budget constitutional amendment which has no chance of passing in order to give the Republicans some cover before they have to vote on the debt issue.  CQ expects the balanced-budget vote to come in the next few days with the debt ceiling vote on Friday.

So, it looks like we are going to have to listen to one more week of this nonsense about raising the debt ceiling before Congress finally gets around to doing what any rational person knew it had to do months ago. 

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