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State of the Debt Ceiling Debate

(image: Mike Licht,

The headline is somewhat misleading because nobody really knows the state of the debt ceiling debate as far as I can tell.  It’s unwinding in the midst of more chaos than anything I can recall on Capitol Hill.  The complete leadership vacuum is stunning.

There are four potential deals currently being discussed:

1)  Cut, Cap & Balance — the GOP stunt bill to appease the base that passed the House on Tuesday goes to the Senate for a vote today. It calls for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and has about as much chance of passing as a bill crowning me Queen of Muldavia.

However, Boehner was forced to go on Rush Limbaugh last night and grovel because the base was angry he was “undermining” Cut, Cap & Balance by cutting a deal with Obama on the side.

2)  Boehner-Obama  — In a closed door meeting with Jack Lew yesterday, members of the Senate flayed about 3 or 4 inches off of his hyde.  Lew was there to give them details of the Boehner-Obama deal.  According to accounts by those who were in attendance, the encounter was scorching.  The caucus was furiously pissed about 3 things:

  • Harry Reid had not been involved in the negotiations, and had only learned about them in the press
  • It blows up the Gang of 6 deal, which was the Senate’s big hope for a power grab from the House
  • In cutting this extreme austerity deal with Boehner, the President was joining with the House GOP to put the squeeze on the Democrats in the Senate, rather than the other way around.

If the President and Boehner announce this deal, and Boehner can whip the votes, it puts the Senate Democrats in the position of being the spoiler and sending the country into default if they don’t pass it.  “The President is essentially taking the side of the Tea Party over his own party to get a bill passed,” as one person put it.

On the House side, however, it’s unclear that the entrenched Tea Party reps will vote for anything.  Bachmann, as the head of the Tea Party Caucus, has said she won’t vote for any raise in the debt ceiling limit, which is why Boehner is trying to sweeten it with triggers that blow up the health care bill if tax reform is not enacted in the future.

The question is — can they whip 13 Democratic votes in the Senate for Boehner-Obama? With guys like Mark Warner saying they would vote for “any deal” to raise the debt ceiling, the answer is probably “yes.”

3) Gang of 6 — as far as I can tell, Mr. Gang of 6 deal, he dead.

4) Reid-McConnell — Reid has said he will file cloture on Monday on the Reid-McConnell fallback deal, “Plan Z,” if there is no other deal forthcoming.  That means the President has roughly 48 hours to announce a deal with Boehner. According to Brian Beutler, Reid-McConnell is already written and ready to go:

If Senate conservatives do all they can to delay Plan Z, it could take the Senate until Friday to pass it. And if the House adheres to its own rules, which requires legislation to be publicly available for 72 hours before a final vote — the debt limit bill won’t be ready for the President to sign until a week from Monday, one day before Treasury’s drop-dead date August 2.

House members are hearing that it is Reid-McConnell, rather than Boehner-Obama, that they will be voting on. Which would be a huge defeat for Obama, but whether it’s because they think he can’t close the Boehner deal, or because leadership will side with their caucuses over the White House, I don’t know.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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