CBO scores Boehner's new bill: $22 billion in savings this year, $917 billion over 10 years

A modest improvement, but let’s face it: At this point, no one’s supporting the bill on its merits. If you’re backing it, it’s because it’s the best we can do to avert a default right now and because, if it passes the Senate somehow, it would force The One to choke on his quasi-threat to veto any short-term deal at the last minute. There’s some fun in that, I suppose.

The new bill does, at least, keep his promise to produce savings in an amount greater than or equal to the amount of the debt-ceiling increase, which will be $900 billion if this is enacted. It’s hard to get excited about the difference between $1 billion in savings next year, which the old bill provided, and $22 billion, which the new one ensures, when we’re running multitrillion dollar deficits. But Yuval Levin makes a fair point. The lower we can get CBO’s baseline now, the deeper future Congresses will have to cut to sell their proposals:

These are still very small numbers in the scheme of federal spending, but the greater front-loading actually matters a lot. One reason is that the 2012 and 2013 budgets are the only ones that will actually be under the control of this congress. But even more important is the greater reduction of the baseline itself since, as we’ve witnessed in the past 24 hours, the CBO baseline is the measure of all future cuts—it sets the bar. This debt limit fight has set a precedent that from now on increases in the debt ceiling will need to be accompanied by equivalent cuts in spending, and those cuts will be measured by the CBO baseline, so cutting it by this much in the first two years will really shape the next round of the budget wars, which will come very soon. Front-loaded cuts have a kind of ratchet effect. And the larger cuts to the baseline in the following years (the revised bill’s cuts are larger every year than the original bill’s cuts) matter for the same reason—even if they don’t fully materialize (since one congress can’t bind another), they define the measure of future spending in every round of budget debates, which means that they make all future cuts larger in real terms.

Reid’s bill would produce $30 billion in savings this year, but guess where that comes from. Right: The phantom “savings” from winding down in Iraq and Afghanistan. Which, contra Levin, reminds us that it’s not that hard to beat those CBO baselines with a creative gimmick or two.

As of early evening, another member of the Cut, Cap, and Balance coalition has peeled off to join Allen West in supporting Boehner’s bill. And Darrell Issa, on a conference call with bloggers, thinks they have the votes — sort of. Exit quotation: “I don’t think all the people whose votes we have yet know it.”