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After Boehner Plan Out of the Way, a Path to a Deal

Harry Reid said in a speech on the Senate floor today – which is just about all that gets done on the Senate floor these days – that “as soon as the House completes its vote tonight, the Senate will move to take up that bill… It will be defeated.” As we know, last night Reid sent a letter signed by all 53 members of the Democratic caucus saying they would vote against the Boehner plan. We now know that Reid plans an immediate vote to prove that. And since it’s the Boehner plan, I don’t see why Senate Republicans would stop that vote from coming to the floor; they want to demagogue that vote and blame Democrats for bringing us closer to default. My guess is you’ll see the Senate rejection of the Boehner bill happen tonight.

That brings us to what will happen next. Mitch McConnell has apparently been talking to Joe Biden about an endgame solution. But the endgame looks clear, despite the frantic nature of the debate. I basically see it the way Ezra sees it in terms of what’s going to happen (separate and apart from what should happen).

• The discretionary spending cap, present in both bills, will stay the same. The Boehner and Reid plans do not specify what programs would come under the knife, only the overall cap, so that will play out in the appropriations process. Apparently there are more defense cuts in the Reid package, but that’s only aspirational – nothing is concrete.

• Boehner adds in the mandatory spending cuts in the Reid bill – through spectrum sales, Ag subsidy cuts, and program integrity enforcement – totaling roughly $70 billion. These were apparently agreed to in the Biden talks.

• The debt limit will get raised up-front, but there will be some kind of trigger or enforcing mechanism to make it harder to defeat the Catfood Commission II recommendations. Boehner only wants to hold back that debt limit to force the recommendations into law. He isn’t likely to give up on that, just as Democrats aren’t likely to give up on rejecting a short-term debt limit increase. Perhaps there would be a trigger of automatic, across-the-board cuts. Perhaps something else. It’s not yet clear, but there will be some kind of mechanism to backstop Catfood Commission II.

• I was a bit surprised to see the McConnell variation on allowing Republicans to not have to vote on increasing the debt limit, using the resolution of disapproval process, embedded in the Boehner plan. That will probably stand as part of the final deal. And maybe Boehner will get his quixotic vote on a balanced budget amendment.

That’s basically McConnell-Reid with a trigger on the Catfood Commission. As Ezra writes:

So we’re looking at deal with no new revenue, significant new spending cuts, a spending-cut based enforcement mechanism for further deficit reduction, a series of debt-ceiling votes designed to embarrass Democrats, and a vote on a balanced budget amendment that’s also designed to embarrass Democrats. It’s a pretty good deal for Republicans, but it’s also a deal that observers expect a substantial number of Democrats could vote for.

The other way this could go is that Democrats recognize that this is a farcical manufactured crisis, a game that should no longer be played, and the President invokes the 14th Amendment and tells Congress to sit and spin. But we know that this President will not do that. I don’t think it’s even worth talking about at this stage. This is the dawning of the Age of Austerity.

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David Dayen

David Dayen