Is The House GOP’s “Cut Cap And Balance” Vote A Political Stunt? Probably

The House GOP has scheduled a vote next week on a debt ceiling package that is solely designed to mollify the base.

Late yesterday the House of Representatives announced that they would be voting next week on a Republican-backed plan to raise the national debt ceiling that essentially includes everything the GOP wants:

House Republican leaders have thrown their support behind the “Cut, Cap and Balance” plan that conservatives are demanding in return for an increase in the federal debt ceiling.

According to lawmakers who attended an 8 a.m. meeting of the Republican conference, GOP House members rallied Friday behind an effort to cut spending, cap spending in future years and pass a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution — a package that has been pushed in the House by the Republican

(…)

The plan would authorize a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt ceiling after Congress passes a balanced-budget amendment.

According to a summary shown to The Hill, the plan would cut $111 billion in fiscal 2012 and cap spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product by 2021. The $2.4 trillion increase in the debt ceiling would satisfy the president’s demand that the additional borrowing authority carry the nation through the 2012 elections.

The move will allow the GOP to say it has acted to increase the debt ceiling and prevent a default, even if the plan is one that is likely to be rejected by Democrats and the White House.

“We’re once again trying to provide the leadership that the American people sent us here to provide,” Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) said.

In reality, the vote seems designed more to mollify the GOP base than actually do anything constructive because, at the same time that’s going on,  the House GOP is quietly preparing itself for the compromise to come:

Republican leaders in the House have begun to prepare their troops for politically painful votes to raise the nation’s debt limit, offering warnings and concessions to move the hard-line majority toward a compromise that would avert a federal default.

For weeks, GOP conservatives, particularly in the House, have issued demands about what they would require in exchange for their votes to increase the debt limit. In negotiations with the White House, Republican leaders have found those demands were unattainable. Unwilling to risk the economic and political consequences of a federal default, which could come as early as Aug. 2, they have started the difficult process of standing down.

At a closed-door meeting Friday morning, GOP leaders turned to their most trusted budget expert, Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, to explain to rank-and-file members what many others have come to understand: A fiscal meltdown could occur if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling.

House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio underscored the point to dispel the notion that failure to allow more borrowing is an option.

“He said if we pass Aug. 2, it would be like ‘Star Wars,'” said Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a freshman from Tennessee. “I don’t think the people who are railing against raising the debt ceiling fully understand that.”

The warnings appeared to have softened the views of at least some House members who, until now, were inclined to dismiss statements by administration officials, business leaders and outside economists that the economic impact would be dire if the federal government were suddenly unable to pay its bills.

Freshman Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said the presentation about skyrocketing interest rates that could result from downgraded bond ratings was “sobering.”

“It illustrates to us that doing nothing is unacceptable,” he said. “I think the conference understands this is a defining moment for us. It’s time to put the next election aside.”

So, at the same time that the House GOP is pushing for their “Cut, Cap, and Balance” vote, they are preparing their troops for the fact that the debt ceiling will have to be raised even if that means taking the best deal they can. Additionally, despite all the public posturing, John Boehner continues to negotiate behind the scenes with Congressional Democrats. Which is why, as David Weigel observes, it fairly clear that the current push for a Balanced Budget Amendment is a political stunt on the part of some in the GOP:

Balanced Budget Amendment 1.0 got a vote after years of debating and organizing. Version 2.0 has emerged, quick-and-dirty, as one of the most popular items in the GOP’s emergency response to the debt. It polls in the 70s. But the current version is different from the 1990s version—and the difference makes passage in the Senate impossible. You can compare the two versions here. The biggest changes are an iron ceiling on spending and a supermajority requirement for tax hikes, spelled out like this:

Total outlays for any fiscal year shall not exceed 18 percent of the gross domestic product of the United States for the calendar year ending before the beginning of such fiscal year, unless two-thirds of the duly chosen and sworn Members of each House of Congress shall provide by law for a specific amount in excess of such 18 percent by a roll call vote.

That wasn’t in the old amendment. By using vaguer language, the Republicans of 1997 assuaged their own worry about a balanced budget amendment—mandatory tax hikes—but they also allowed Democrats to fret about entitlement cuts. It obviously didn’t save the amendment. “Congress would be required to raid the Social Security trust funds to run the government,” warned then-Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle. Democrats even proposed their own version, with a rider about how entitlements couldn’t be touched by the scythe, just to make their point.

That’s not possible with the new version. The only way to bring government spending under that cap is to cut entitlements. And this is why this year’s model, at least in the form that it will be voted on next week, doesn’t have a chance.

The vote next week is not going to go anywhere. Not only does it have no chance of passing the Senate, it probably won’t even get the 290 votes in the House that it would need to pass the Constitutional Amendment portion of the plan. Moreover, as I noted last month, there are serious structural problems with the version of the Balanced Budget Amendment current being debated in Congress. When the public is polled on the issue, it seems highly unlikely that they have any idea what the specifics of the amendment actually are. If they knew that it meant that entitlement cuts and tax increases were the inevitable result of proposal, one wonders if they’d still support it.

The House GOP is already preparing its members for the inevitable distasteful vote to raise the debt ceiling, and John Boehner is spending the weekend talking to Democrats and cobbling together a deal that looks an awful lot like the Reid-McConnell plan that James Joyner wrote about yesterday. Is the ‘Cut Cap and Balance” vote a political stunt? Sure seems like it to me

 

FILED UNDER: Congress, Deficit and Debt, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    Like Star Wars?

    Can’t help but think the guy was looking for a better movie analogy.

  2. ratufa says:

    It’s both depressing and not unexpected that, at this late stage, some members of Congress still need to have the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling explained to them. I have some sympathy for Boehner feeling the need to explain things in terms of “Star Wars” to that crowd.

    This may have been a missed opportunity for Republicans to make non-trivial progress on the deficit, in part because too many members of Congress (and their supporters) didn’t understand the strength of their hand.

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    Bruce Barlett

    Next week, House Republicans plan to debate a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Although polls show overwhelming public support, it is doubtful that many Americans realize that the measure to be debated is not, in fact, a workable blueprint to enforce a balanced budget. In fact, it’s just more political theater designed to delight the Tea Party.

  4. Derrick says:

    Just Wow! How can people support a party that is the ignorant and stupid? I get the position that they only want to raise the debt ceiling with spending cuts attached, but that so many in that caucus can just willfully ignore all of the evidence and still to this day need to be convinced that defaulting would be a bad thing, just reeks of idiocy. I had more respect when I thought that they were just bluffing, but I really think that a large % of the Republican Congress believes that there would be no consequences. They need to develop some basic SAT for these morons before they are allowed to take their oath.

  5. That Guy says:

    @Derrick:

    Just Wow! How can people support a party that is the ignorant and stupid?… that so many in that caucus can just willfully ignore all of the evidence and still to this day need to be convinced that defaulting would be a bad thing, just reeks of idiocy.”

    So when every single Democrat Senator in 2006 willfully ignored all of the evidence, and voted no on raising the debt ceiling, it was proof of their idiocy.

    Good point.

  6. mattb says:

    @That GuyYes, the 2006 Senate Democrats voted “no” as a unified block to placate their base and protest the Bush policies. So in that way it was political theatre.

    But the difference between then and now was that they were the Minority party with knowledge that the measure was going to pass. The senate Majority party — the Republicans — voted unanimously to raise the debt ceiling. No attempt was made by the Dems to filibuster the vote or prevent it from happening.

    BTW, in 2006, the Republican controlled House hiked the limit automatically (source: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5282521)

    That is a far cry from today when the Majority party is willing to crash the entire system.

  7. Liberty60 says:

    So when every single Democrat Senator in 2006 willfully ignored all of the evidence, and voted no on raising the debt ceiling, it was proof of their idiocy.

    Yes.

    Even speaking as a local Democratic Party activist, yes that was a foolish act.

  8. ratufa says:

    As mattb pointed out, the 2006 Democratic vote on the ceiling has all the trappings of a political stunt. Neither party is above stupid political gimmicks.

    It’s still the case that if you’re in Congress and you hadn’t figured out the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling before Friday, you need to do your homework better.

  9. The elephants seem pretty reasonable. Sort of. Rob Bishop wants any deal “signed in blood.” BTW I don’t get Paul Ryan’s it will be like Star Wars allusion either.

  10. That Guy says:

    @mattb:

    The senate Majority party — the Republicans — voted unanimously to raise the debt ceiling.”

    Unfortunately for your argument, this is factually incorrect.

  11. JohnMcC says:

    Well, there are stunts and then there are stunts. The best analysis I’ve seen on the debt-ceiling negotiations indicates that the WH team thinks that with the right handling of this issue they can ‘take the deficit off the table’ for the ’12 elections. The commitment to solving the deficit is to do so in a 10 year window; doing Keynesian stimulus in the short run will not be as easily attacked if they’ve made a plausible pledge to really really work on the debt after the employment numbers are better.

    If the Repubs actually DID get the B-B Amendment thru both houses (which I agree, they can’t) then it goes to the states — needing 3/4ths of the states to ratify it — which gives practically eternal life to the issue of ‘excess spending’.

  12. An Interested Party says:

    Actually, mattb was off by 2 votes, but his main point still stands…yes, Democrats in the Senate voted against the debt ceiling increase in 2006, but, their vote was purely symbolic as the measure already had enough votes to pass…and they didn’t use the vote as an extortion measure to get their preferences regarding the budget, as the GOP is trying to do now…

  13. That Guy says:

    @An Interested Party:

    It barely passed. It’s easy to say in hindsight that “everybody knew what the vote was going to be”- not so easy in reality, under the pressure of a vote. More troubling, the Democrats set a precedent that voting no doesn’t really matter.

  14. mattb says:

    @That Guy: Oops… Sorry about that, I had thought the number of Dems/Republicans at that time was closer than it actually was. 3 Republicans and 1 independent voted against the debt ceiling — though I have to wonder if the fact that there was a secured majority allowed them the “political cover” to vote “no.”

    Without exception, every single one of the Senate’s Democrats voted against the most recent increase in the debt ceiling last Thursday, joined by Jeffords (I-VT), Burns (R-MT), Coburn (R-OK), and Ensign (R-NV). (source: http://www.econbrowser.com/archives/2006/03/the_politics_of.html)

    Beyond that, I think the rest of my original argument still stands.

    (btw — its interesting to read the comments on that page I sourced — all of which were made in 2006 following the vote to raise the debt ceiling)

  15. mattb says:

    @That Guy:

    It barely passed. It’s easy to say in hindsight that “everybody knew what the vote was going to be”

    That’s just flat out wrong. The entire job of the leaders/whips in the Senate (and the House for that matter) is to know *exactly* how their party is going to vote.

    To imagine that these thing happen blindly is flat out wrong. You can bet that Bill Frist and Mich McConnell (the Leader and Whip) knew that it was going to pass before they ever brought it to the floor. To do otherwise would be risking public embarrassment of the Majority Party (especially if members of your own party have to vote against the party line to defeat the measure).

  16. That Guy says:

    @mattb:

    You’re missing the point. While you may (emphasis on the word may) have a good idea how your party will vote, you don’t necessarily have a good read on how the opposition will vote, and things can change quickly on the floor. Harry Reid brought up several notable votes last year that were voted down (heck, Joe Manchin decided to skip one important vote and go Christmas shopping that day…).

    And why play politics and cast “symbolic” votes as you claim, if something is as important as potential default? If a few votes turned at the last minute on the floor, the Democrats would have largely owned the default in 2006. It sets a very dangerous precedent.

  17. mattb says:

    Two different issues @ThatGuy. First, I totally agree that is was a dumb move by the Dems. But the thing is that you can be sure that the Majority Leader and the Whip knew they had 50/51 votes (52 in fact). Once you hit that mark, everything is academic.

    And you can bet that chances were the Dems knew that as well. A unanimous vote against is not something that can be kept particularly secret.

    Additionally, generally speaking, its been traditionally easier to herd Republican votes than Democratic votes in recent years. And finally, with the exception of the {“Christmas Shopping” vote — was that DADT? I can’t remember, but I think it was something to do with gay rights) the majority leader has been typically on top of their party like white on rice.

    I just doubt that the 52/48 margin was anywhere near “as close” as it looks.

    And still — even if it was — there is still a difference between voting “no” and blocking the vote from even happening.

    I’m not absolving the Dems… I just find the comparison, beyond the similarity of the political theater, as lacking

  18. mattb says:

    To be clear, I’m saying that there is a huge difference between a one or two vote majority and the 6 vote (if my math is right) majority held by the Republicans at that moment.

  19. ratufa says:

    @That Guy:

    If a few votes turned at the last minute on the floor, the Democrats would have largely owned the default in 2006. It sets a very dangerous precedent.

    Things are less precedent-setting than you are making them to be. For example, the 1995 debt limit increase passed by 2 votes, with Democrats voting against it because of amendments to the bill that they didn’t like. It isn’t just Democrats doing this sort of thing: The December 2009 debt limit increase passed by one vote (60 – 39, since it was filibustered), with all Democrats except 1 and 1 Republican voting for it.

    Politics happens. Both sides do it.

  20. That Guy says:

    @mattb:

    Anyway you slice it… Obama and the leading Democrats still face a big credibility problem here.

  21. An Interested Party says:

    Anyway you slice it… Obama and the leading Democrats still face a big credibility problem here.

    That would only be true if they did then what Republicans are doing now, but since they didn’t…an interesting idea I’ve seen floated around is that the GOP is setting a dangerous precedent now…what if, a few years down the road, the Dems are in the minority and they threaten to vote against a routine debt ceiling increase because they want tax increases in the budget with no spending cuts…the precedent will have been set by what is going on right now…

  22. mattb says:

    @That Guy: There is a credibility gap — no question — but this is politics. I don’t see it as a particularly *big* gap. Again, they didn’t block a vote, and I’ve yet to see a compelling argument that the Dem’s thought that move would prevent it from passing versus being a “protest vote.”

    The issue now is that the House Republicans (versus the Senate Republicans who I think would largely pass this without issue) (a.) ARE IN THE MAJORITY, (b) ARE SAYING SAYING THAT THEY WILL NOT PASS IT, (c) THAT IT CAN FAIL WITHOUT MAJOR REPERCUSSIONS, and (d) THAT THEY WILL NOT COMPROMISE.

  23. PJ says:

    @That Guy:

    If a few votes turned at the last minute on the floor, the Democrats would have largely owned the default in 2006. It sets a very dangerous precedent.

    The 2006 vote wasn’t held two weeks before the debt would have defaulted. Nor can I recall any other vote on the debt ceiling being held this close to when it would have defaulted.

    If there hadn’t been a majority to raise the debt ceiling on the first vote for it in 2006, there would have been another one, that would have raised the ceiling.

    Voting against the debt ceiling was about political posturing, nothing else, Republicans or Democrats weren’t out to actually stop it being raised. For Republicans it’s no longer so.

  24. That Guy says:

    @PJ:

    Voting against the debt ceiling was about political posturing, nothing else”

    It may or may not have been political posturing, but the point is, it’s difficult to take the Democrats seriously here when they themselves voted unanimously against raising the debt ceiling. Barack Obama, in fact, gave a passionate speech against it. I’ll grant you, both sides posture, but actions, not words, matter.

  25. That Guy says:

    @mattb:

    The issue now is that the House Republicans (versus the Senate Republicans who I think would largely pass this without issue) (a.) ARE IN THE MAJORITY, (b) ARE SAYING SAYING THAT THEY WILL NOT PASS IT, (c) THAT IT CAN FAIL WITHOUT MAJOR REPERCUSSIONS, and (d) THAT THEY WILL NOT COMPROMISE.”

    But that isn’t what they are saying. In fact, the blog post is about one of the options they are offering.

    And if by “compromise” you mean the president offering $2 Billion total in real cuts for next year (and hypothetical “3:1” cuts over the next decade- that no future Congress is going to consider itself bound to) in exchange for massive tax hikes now- I mean, really…

  26. PJ says:

    @That Guy:

    As has already been pointed out to you, the Democrats were the minority party. The Republicans had 54 seats in the Senate.
    If the Democrats actually were out to stop the debt ceiling from being raised, there would have been only one thing they could have done, filibuster. They didn’t, what does that tell you?

  27. ratufa says:

    And if by “compromise” you mean the president offering $2 Billion total in real cuts for next year (and hypothetical “3:1″ cuts over the next decade- that no future Congress is going to consider itself bound to) in exchange for massive tax hikes now- I mean, really…

    Obama has put some entitlement reform and a cuts/revenue ratio much greater than 3:1 on the table. He’s gotten heat from the Democratic “base” because of this. Some of the revenue increases are additional fees and closing some of the loopholes/special tax breaks of the type that some Republicans occasionally complain about when they talk about “simplifying the tax code”.

    But, OK, any revenue increase at all is against Party Doctrine and many Republicans believe (or believed, until Yoda explained it to them) that not raising the debt ceiling is a good idea. So, instead of the feared “compromise”, Republicans are left scrambling to come up with ways to raise the debt ceiling in a way that saves face and helps them in 2012. I don’t think that people who care about reducing the deficit should see this as a good thing. As Rahm Emanuel might put it, it looks like Republicans just let a serious crisis go to waste.

  28. labman57 says:

    The GOP’s latest pledge: “Castrate, Crap on, and Bone the Middle Class”