Open thread: Senate to vote on debt bill at 1 p.m., or maybe not; Update: Reid’s bill filibustered, 50/49; Update: Deal all but done? Update: Reid signs off on debt ceiling agreement
posted at 12:09 pm on July 31, 2011 by Allahpundit
They’re supposed to vote at 1 p.m., but according to Plouffe and another “Democrat familiar with the situation,” there’s still no bill. What’s the hold up? In all likelihood, they’re haggling over the “triggers” that’ll happen if the new Super Commission can’t agree on, or Congress won’t accept, new deficit reduction proposals later this year. Jen Rubin’s hearing the following from a Republican source on the Hill:
The second tranche works like this: If a new congressional commission introduces a plan totaling at least $1.5 trillion in cuts by Thanksgiving and it’s passed by Christmas there are no across-the-board cuts. Or, if a balanced budget amendment is passed and sent to the states, then across-the-board cuts are avoided. However, if there is no commission package passed AND the BBA is not passed and sent to the states, then across-the-board cuts of $1.2 trillion including Medicare and defense (the details of which aren’t final) go into effect. If the across-the board-cuts go into effect, the debt ceiling is only raised $1.2 trillion (likely insufficient to keep the government operating for long), meaning “we could do this all over again, depending on economic growth.” In other words, if we went to sequestration the total debt ceiling increase would be $2.1 trillion in two doses.
So there’s the BBA concession: Democrats can avoid new cuts in the second stage entirely if they pass the amendment. As for the automatic Medicare/Pentagon reductions, that’s obviously designed to make both sides in Congress think twice before rejecting the Super Commission’s recommendations. The precise formula for that is still being negotiated too. According to Jake Tapper, the White House wants fully 50 percent of the automatic cuts to affect the Pentagon and 50 percent to be spread across various other discretionary programs. GOP hawks won’t go for that, especially since the only alternative might be approving a Commission package that includes new revenues.
As I write this, the Senate has just begun its session and Reid is insisting that they’re “cautiously optimistic” about a deal but not there yet. Here’s your thread for tracking today’s drama. Exit question: How many Republican and Democratic votes will this bargain get in the House? Progressives are reportedly already murmuring about balking because of the lack of revenue in the deal, which means Boehner will need a majority of his previous Republican majority on yesterday’s vote to get this through. (Here’s one vote forecast.) I wonder if they’ll do it on the first try or, a la TARP, if it’ll take a market panic and subsequent re-vote to get it done. Stand by for updates.
Update: The post-deal spin starts before the deal is even struck:
“I don’t think we’ve been hurt at all,” McConnell said on CBS’ ‘Face the Nation’.
“The American people wanted us to do something about out-of-control spending and … the debt ceiling is going to produce what many people would believe is a complete change in the trajectory of the federal government beginning to get spending under control,” said McConnell, who is likely to be largely responsible for any package that wins muster with Congress.
Update: John Bolton sounds the alarm for hawks:
Every indication is that the debt-ceiling negotiations are leaving the defense budget in grave jeopardy. By exposing critical defense programs to disproportionate cuts as part of the “trigger mechanism,” there is a clear risk that key defense programs will be hollowed out.
While the trigger mechanism comes into play only if the Congressional negotiators fail to reach agreement on the second phase of spending cuts, it verges on catastrophe to take such a national security risk.
Defense has already taken hugely disproportionate cuts under President Obama, and there is simply no basis for expanding those cuts further. Republican negotiators must hold the line, since the Obama Administration plainly will not.
Update: Senate Republicans will huddle at 1:45.
Update: Turns out we did have a 1 p.m. vote after all. Now that there’s a deal in the works, Reid evidently decided that it wouldn’t panic markets if he introduced his current bill and let the GOP filibuster. Which they did: The vote was 50/49 (Reid voted no in order to preserve his right to reintroduce it, so they actually had 51 votes in favor.) Why he bothered forcing a vote, I simply don’t know. I guess it lets him use the “obstructionist Republicans” talking point for a few more hours, but that’ll evaporate as soon as there’s a deal. Oh well.
Stand by for the roll. At least two Dems voted no on this thing, intriguingly.
Update: Here we go. Via Fox reporter Chad Pergram, three Democrats voted no: Manchin, Ben Nelson, and of course Reid himself. So how’d they get to 50? Er, Scott Brown voted yes.
Update: Lefty Greg Sargent wonders how Republicans managed to use the threat of hitting the debt ceiling as leverage over Democrats when even most Republicans concede that it’s a scenario to be avoided at all costs.
Update: Ace is thinking about “trigger” gamesmanship down the line:
Republicans let the automatic cuts happen, but then immediately propose reinstating most of the money to Defense.
This winds up causing automatic cuts to domestic discretionary, but no big cuts to Defense; most Democrats would probably have to vote for this.
But it has a bad effect: We’d have approved $2.1 trillion in debt ceiling increase while only (guestimating) cutting, say, $1.6 – $1.7 trillion in cuts.
I.e. the GOP could try a defense version of “doctor fix.” Assuming Medicare is also part of the trigger, though, Democrats would respond by demanding that that money be reinstated too — and Republicans would have to vote for it to block the left’s “Paul Ryan and his conservative friends want to kill your grandma” election messaging.
Update: Come to think of it, if Medicare’s part of the trigger, then Democrats will follow Ace’s scheme to reinstate that money later even if the GOP doesn’t try the same move for defense. (Again, they do this all the time in “doctor fix.”) And even if the GOP does try the same move, why would Democrats care? They want to protect entitlements much more passionately than they want to see the Pentagon’s budget slashed, so they’d agree to reinstate the Pentagon’s money as the price of reinstating Medicare. The fundamental problem here, as always, is that Democrats don’t care about cutting spending. If there’s nothing built into this deal that prevents reinstating the money that would be cut when the trigger kicks in — and I’m not sure how there could be procedurally — then the trigger isn’t worth much.
Update: Dick Durbin identifies another reason why Democrats aren’t crazy about this deal, especially the cuts up front.
Update: Even some tea partiers are ready for compromise.
Update: Tapper says they’ve almost got it worked out:
The agreement looks like this: if the super-committee tasked with entitlement and tax reform fails to come up with $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction that passes Congress, the “neutron bomb” goes off, — as one Democrat put it — spending cuts that will hit the Pentagon budget most deeply, as well as Medicare providers (not beneficiaries) and other programs.
If the super-committee comes up with some deficit reduction but not $1.5 trillion, the triggers would make up the difference…
And the debt ceiling will be raised by $2.4 trillion in two tranches: $900 billion immediately, and the debt ceiling will be raised by an additional $1.5 trillion next year – either through passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment, which is unlikely, or with Congress voting its disapproval.
That’s the same as what Jen Rubin reported this morning. After the Super Commission announces its plan for deficit reduction, Congress has three options: (1) enact that plan, (2) pass a BBA and avoid any further immediate cuts entirely, or (3) do nothing and let across-the-board cuts go into effect, which would hit both Medicare and the Pentagon. That’s the last piece of this to be negotiated — how much of those cuts would be to defense specifically as opposed to being truly across-the-board? The harder the military would be hit, the more pressure the GOP will be under to avoid those cuts by passing the Super Committee plan, which could of course include taxes. And that’s not the only tax pressure: “Democrats say –- if tax reform doesn’t happen through the super-committee, President Obama will veto any extension of Bush tax cuts when they come up at the end of 2012, further creating an incentive for the super-committee to act.”
It sounds like the House will vote on this tomorrow before the Senate will. That struck me as backwards at first blush, since having the Senate rubber-stamp it first will put pressure on the House to follow suit. But since the House will have a harder time with this than the Senate, the thinking presumably is that the House needs to be free to tweak the bill to get the votes if need be.
Update: How many Democratic votes will this thing get in the House? Don’t answer until you’ve read this. Boehner may need his caucus to carry the load yet again. One key liberal objection, as Weigel notes, is that tax hikes aren’t one of the triggers that would kick in if Congress rejects the Super Committee. The GOP simply won’t agree to that, which is why Democrats are demanding heavy Pentagon cuts as a lesser substitute.
Update: Byron York on Obama’s nuclear weapon:
As the hours to Tuesday’s deadline tick away, President Obama will have increasing leverage in his negotiations with Republicans. The president has a nuclear weapon which he has not used thus far in the crisis but will certainly use if the issue remains unresolved in the next 24 hours. That weapon is an address to the nation in which a sober-faced Obama reluctantly lays out what government spending will continue past the debt deadline and what spending will not continue. Many insiders, both Republican and Democrat, believe Obama has been badly overexposed at times in the debt battle, but that would be a speech everyone watches. The president would be the man dealing with disaster (even if it is one he helped create), while he dispatches aides and surrogates to blame it all on GOP radicalism.
True, one last eleventh-hour bid to panic the public might shake loose the last few votes they need to pass this thing. But see the previous update. I’m not so sure the GOP is his big problem this time.
Update (Tina Korbe): Fox News is now reporting that Harry Reid has signed off on the latest iteration of the debt ceiling increase agreement, pending caucus approval.