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