Paul Ryan: I reluctantly support Boehner’s plan
posted at 5:53 pm on July 26, 2011 by Allahpundit
Not the first time Ryan’s gone to bat for Boehner during the debt-ceiling standoff. Ten days ago, he tried to convince Republican freshmen during a caucus meeting that, yes indeed, hitting the ceiling would be a very bad thing.
This may well be the weightiest endorsement the leadership could hope for. Good enough to get to 218?
The Budget Control Act takes an important step in the right direction by cutting $1.2 trillion in government spending over the next decade. Critically, it does this without resorting to Senator Reid’s gimmicks and without imposing the president’s preferred tax increases on American families and the struggling economy.
This bill is far from perfect. We still have a long way to go toward getting the key drivers of our debt — especially federal health-care spending — under control. But considering that House Republicans control only one-half of one-third of the federal government, I support this reasonable, responsible effort to cut government spending, avoid a default, and help create a better environment for job creation.
I’ve been keeping a scorecard today of where prominent Republicans and affiliated groups are landing on the Boehner bill and it’s easily the messiest since TARP. In addition to Ryan and Allen West, Cantor’s supporting the bill on grounds that it’s time to stop whining and take what the party can get. Haley Barbour agrees, as apparently does the Chamber of Commerce. Meanwhile, Fred Thompson, Yuval Levin, and James Pethokoukis argue that Boehner’s plan isn’t half bad under these awfully unfavorable circumstances. Says Fred, playing the long game:
Yes, it’s true that the White House is using overwrought and misleading implications, and we’re still a long way from default. But do you really want to spend the next several months going on record as to which discretionary-spending programs (including the military) the administration should cut as much as 20, 30, or 40 percent? This is not the way to downsize. The political process won’t tolerate it, in part because this approach would require you to ask the American people to put aside their proclivity for divided government and trust Republicans to govern for the next couple of decades, which is what it will take to get us out of this mess. Taking huge, unnecessary risks like this is not consistent with long-term political success…
We will never achieve entitlement or tax reform with a doctrinaire liberal in the White House. Any agreements to do so in “out years” would probably be unenforceable even if agreement were achieved. And we can only do so much while controlling one half of one branch of government. Ladies and Gentlemen of the House Republicans, you have laid some great groundwork to rectify both of those situations. Now it is the time to accept a well-won victory and move on.
Opposed to the bill are influential House conservatives like Jim Jordan and Louie Gohmert and influential Senate conservatives like DeMint and, er … Lindsey Graham. The Club for Growth is also a no, which will make incumbents worried about a primary challenge think twice. All of which brings us to the money question: How does this thing pass both chambers? According to lefty Greg Sargent, the Democrats are betting that it can’t — and that’s when Reid will make his move:
Here’s the game plan, as seen by Senate Dem aides: The next move is to sit tight and wait for the House to vote on Boehner’s proposal. The idea is that with mounting conservative opposition, it could very well be defeated. If the Boehner plan goes down in the House, that would represent a serious blow to Boehner’s leadership, weakening his hand in negotiations…
At that point, the Senate would then pass Harry Reid’s proposal, and then kick it over to the House, which would increase pressure on Boehner to try to get it passed, since he was unable to pass his own plan.
In other words, the viability of Reid’s plan may depend on the viability of Boehner’s plan, which is why you’re seeing a huge push among Republican pols and pundits today to rally the caucus behind it. If Boehner can get it through on Wednesday, Senate Republicans will have every incentive to filibuster Reid’s bill on Thursday in order to force Senate Dems to suck it up and pass Boehner’s plan as a last resort. Conversely, if the House chokes on Boehner’s bill, Reid’s bill is the only game in town and moderate Republicans in both chambers might swing behind it in the name of averting default. The good news is, the GOP controls its own destiny: If the House passes Boehner’s plan, all the pressure will fall on moderate Democrats to abandon Reid and pass the House bill before August 2. The bad news is, controlling that destiny depends on caucus solidarity, which gives Democrats the advantage. Pelosi is backing Reid and Hoyer is vowing that very few Democrats will back Boehner, which means the GOP will have to deliver 218 on its own. Meanwhile in the Senate, the GOP caucus is united against Reid’s plan so far, but does anyone seriously believe Collins, Murkowski, or even Tom Coburn will hold out and default if Reid’s bill is the last chance?
The pitch pro-Boehnerites are making to House conservatives is, essentially, that we don’t want to let the Democrats “win” by having Reid’s bill emerge from Congress. But if, like some “true conservatives,” you subscribe to the logic that it’s better to have 30 Marco Rubios in the Senate than 60 Arlen Specters, then letting Reid “win” may be the next best option to seeing your own plan pass. If Boehner’s plan fails and Reid’s plan gets through, then fine: The squishy RINOs who voted with the Democrats to pass it will face primary challenges over their votes next year, which will result in either a more conservative Congress (if the primary challengers win the general election) or a more Democratic caucus (if they don’t). Either way, the Republican “brand” improves by weeding out the centrists. That’s a mighty big risk to take given what a bluer Congress would mean for the GOP’s chances of passing Cut, Cap and Balance or entitlement reform, but there you have it. For some, forcing moderates to take a tough vote may be a feature, not a bug.
Update: What exactly are we arguing about between these two plans? Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former CBO chief, wonders:
The plans are quite similar. Indeed, the best way to think about the Reid plan is that it is simply the Boehner plan with fake cuts (largely war spending) added on. Put differently, executing the Reid plan is the same as executing the Boehner plan and then adding an unrestricted debt limit increase on at the end. Since so-called “clean” increases are a signal to markets that the U.S. cannot address its fundamental problems, this is extremely dangerous and undesirable.
The bottom line. The ideal debt-limit package would combine up-front discretionary cuts with medium-term discretionary controls and real policy changes to entitlement programs that address the spending explosion and display to international capital markets the ability of the United States to address the debt threat. The Boehner plan is not ideal, but certainly is a strong B+. The Reid plan, in contrast, is a gentleman’s C at best.
Philip Klein counters: Since both plans are more or less the same and both fail to address America’s real fiscal problem, i.e. entitlements, why not pass the Democratic version and let them own the resulting downgrade?
The biggest problem with adopting the Boehner approach is that it will enable Democrats to escape responsibility for any downgrade by claiming that it was the result of Republicans’ unwillingness to approve a longer-term debt limit hike. But if Republicans approved a version of the Reid plan, it would eliminate that ability…
No doubt, adopting a version of the Reid plan would lead to some degree of backlash among conservatives, especially because it violates Boehner’s vow that any increase in the debt limit be coupled with higher value cuts. But Boehner’s current plan is already under attack, because it already compromised on much more fundamental matters – it doesn’t make permanent structural changes and it doesn’t deal with entitlements, which are the primary drivers of our long-term debt.