Friday, July 29, 2011

What Kind of Compromise?

The Boehner bill has failed in the Senate. The Reid bill will fail in the House. Right now, Republicans and Democrats are negotiating to forge some kind of consensus for a bill that could pass the Senate and the House.

These, it seems to me, are the big points of contention:

  • How big a raise in the debt ceiling? How many steps? Boehner's committed to a two-step process, in which an immediate increase in the debt ceiling would be followed by another vote in 6 or so months that would require the passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment. Reid's bill would offer enough of an increase to carry the debt past 2012.

  • Role of a Balanced Budget Amendment? Boehner requires Congressional passage of one before a "second tranche"; Reid doesn't.

  • Where are the cuts? How frontloaded are they? This is perhaps the most flexible and opaque part of discussion (as projected saving/spending often is).

  • Power of appointed committee? Both proposals would have expedited review, but Boehner's proposal demands a certain threshold of savings before the passage of the "second tranche."
The exact placement of cuts is perhaps where Republicans can demand the most (because they might have to give elsewhere), especially in their insistence that they be more front-loaded and substantive.

I'm doubtful that Republican leadership (especially Boehner and McConnell) really want to see the debt-ceiling battle redux, so both Republicans and Democrats might have something to gain by avoiding a "second tranche" two-step. Both parties could split the difference perhaps by not allowing a second increase in the debt ceiling to take place without a vote on the recommendations of the savings committee; once the vote took place (yea or nay), the ceiling could be raised. Yes, that compromise would be mostly cosmetic.

A solid requirement that a BBA be passed before a second increase in the debt ceiling is likely a non-starter for a whole host of reasons. But demanding a vote on the BBA before a second debt-ceiling hike might be an appeasing gesture.

Negotiators might also find it helpful to demand concessions on issues beyond the budget in order to provide cover to various Republicans. Senate pledges to change Obamacare or light bulb bans or other conservative bette noires might help keep the support of House Republicans. Procedurally, some of those moves could be hard to execute, but they might provide a helpful avenue.

If Republicans want to reinforce the chances that an ultimate debt-ceiling reconciliation will pass, Senate Republicans might be wise to put forward a measure that gets more than the 7 or so Republican votes that would be needed to override a filibuster. A bill that comes out of the Senate as a RINO bill will have a harder time getting through the House (assuming any Senate-approved bill can avoid that stamp). Some Democratic defections in the Senate would likely make it easier for any compromise to be passed; it would increase the perception that the bill was "tough."

Update: The Hill has some specifics on one line of compromise: a two-step borrowing from the McConnell plan.

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