Mitch McConnell-Harry Reid Deal on Debt, Entitlements

A Mitch McConnell-Harry Reid brokered deal on the debt ceiling looks promising.

A Mitch McConnell-Harry Reid brokered deal on the debt ceiling looks promising.

Larry Kudlow broke the details yesterday afternoon:

The key part of the new McConnell package is a joint committee to review entitlements in a massive deficit-reduction package. Unlike the Bowles-Simpson commission, this committee will be mandated to have a legislative outcome — an actual vote — that will occur early next year. No White House members. Evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. No outsiders. This will be the first time such a study would have an expedited procedure mandated with no amendments permitted. Also, tax reform could be air-dropped into this committee’s report.

Senator McConnell is determined to produce something from this grand-design package. He’s a smart guy. He may be saving the GOP from itself. McConnell believes that debt default must be completely taken off the table. That’s the thinking behind his debt-ceiling proposal, unless overturned by two-thirds of a congressional vote.

He strongly believes that Republicans must disassociate themselves from any debt default or downgrade by the ratings agencies. And he recognizes that the monthly revenue and spending numbers are so unbalanced that the idea of revenue allocations in the event of no debt-ceiling hike is simply not feasible or desirable.

Greg Sargent independently confirms that this is the outline of the deal and observes, “Democrats are already cool to the McConnell proposal because it includes spending cuts but no new revenues, but they may be willing to accept it because it spares entitlements. But now the proposal looks as if it will also force a review — and a vote on — entitlement reform.”

Off the top of my head, this looks like a very reasonable plan that should be acceptable to conservatives and moderates alike. Unlike the similar plan McConnell floated earlier this week, this appears substantive and motivated at least as much by outcomes as partisan gamesmanship. Indeed, this explains why Reid actually reacted more favorably than I did to the McConnell trial balloon: He sensed it was the basis for a deal.

I’m generally skeptical of blue ribbon panels and BRAC-style gimmickry, which tend to either kick the can down the road or evade Congressional responsibility by resort to extra-constitutional measures. But, given the hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington and the current party allocation of power, a 50-50 panel composed entirely of legislators and a straight up-or-down vote would be a welcome approach. Both parties agree that entitlement reform is necessary. This might be just the way to achieve it with both sides getting credit and neither side being able to beat the others about the head and shoulders with it.

The Daily Kos gang is apoplectic, too, which is generally a good sign.

Then again, I’m breaking my own rule against optimism about anything Washington. They’ll almost certainly find a way to muck this up. But this would at least present an opportunity for a grown-up solution. Do we really dare to dream of such a thing?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Isn’t this just Bowles-Simpson all over again? That committee met for a year, came up for a plan, and then they were promptly forgotten. If we’re going to revisit this issue then their plan should be the starting point, in my opinion.

  2. Vast Variety says:

    Entitlement reform is great but its not the end all solution. Tax reform as to be included. You can’t balance a system by only changing the variables on one side of the equation.

  3. hey norm says:

    Doug…I wouldnt say Simpson-Bowles was forgotten…Obama is actually to the right of them at this point.
    Curious – no revenue increases? Does that mean the Bush tax cuts just expire?

  4. Terrye says:

    If this plan requires a vote, it might be different from previous committees.

  5. MBunge says:

    The only way this deal has any chance of going anywhere is if it includes a debt ceiling increase with virtually no spending cuts.


  6. An Interested Party says:

    The Daily Kos gang is apoplectic, too, which is generally a good sign.

    And what about the other side of the blogosphere? I wonder how they’ll feel about this little deal…

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    So, the people who were in the, “there will be a deal, this is all posturing” are looking to have called it right.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @Steve Verdon: Guilty if true. But cynicism as a default position has a low payout, since it’s better than even money in most cases.

  9. ratufa says:

    I’m not expecting a whole lot of entitlement reform from a vote during primary season.

  10. Steve Verdon says:

    Really James, you think the Republicans are so myopic they aren’t thinking about when they are next in power?

  11. James Joyner says:

    @Steve Verdon: Both sides are cognizant that the pendulum can swing.

  12. sam says:

    Excuse me, but I’ll believe it when I see the votes. Y’all seem to be forgetting that there is a large block of Tea Party foks in the House, and a smaller block in the Senate, who ain’t gonna agree to anything other than the apocalypse. Show me the effing votes.

  13. sam says:

    BTW, part of the proposal appears to be allowing the president to raise the debt limit on his own without the approval of Congress. Is that constitutional? (Gee, wasn’t it only last week that Republican panties were bunched up all over the place at the thought that the president might invoke some power derived from the 14th Amendment to raise the debt limit without Congress’s approval?)

  14. James Joyner says:

    @sam: Presumably, the deal would be a law delegating said power to the executive subject to a 2/3 Congressional vote. Probably constitutional, since it’s not a simple legislative veto.

  15. sam says:

    My question is , if it’s an Article 1, Section 8 power, can Congress delegate such a power to the Executive? I’m skeptical.

  16. James Joyner says:

    @sam: Hell MOST of the Article I, Section 8 powers have been delegated to an executive agency. The Post Office runs itself, as does the Mint. To say nothing of the war power.

  17. sam says:

    Well, when you put it that way….(Still, I was thinking more of the power of purse.)

  18. KevinA says:

    James and Steve Verdon are more sanguine on this than I am. This McConnell-Reid plan needs voted on quickly b/c if it waits to next Fri. or beyond, House GOPers who aren’t already functionally crazy will hear from the likes of Erick Erickson and other Teahadists crying betrayal and threatening primaries. And, as James alludes to, the “purity troll” Left of Pelosi’s caucus might not automatically OK it either.

    The perverse thing of it is, though, that the more opposition this gets from, say, DKos, the more likely conservatives will OK it. After all, if “teh libruls” don’t like it, it must be good

  19. john personna says:

    Re. the pendulum, I think politicians usually think 1 or 2 moves further ahead than they get credit for … but the whole problem here is a breakdown in that.

    People are trapped in various positions. Obama was just smart enough to “trap” himself in a good one.

  20. john personna says:

    Re. the McConnell-Reid plan, sure it could happen.

    The GOP should do it fast, before they suffer more damage.