With a potential debt default just over a week away, leaders of both chambers of Congress on Monday introduced dueling proposals that each says would save the country from catastrophe.
Whether either of those plans is able to make it through Congress is an open question.
A two-step proposal put forth by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Monday to achieve $3 trillion in deficit savings faces a two-fold problem: Democrats don’t like the plan, and Republicans are tepid toward it.
Asked at a news conference Monday whether he believes he’ll be able to get a majority of House Republicans to back his proposal, Boehner paused, then turned the microphone over to one of his lieutenants, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
“I thank the speaker for yielding,” McCarthy said to laughter from reporters. He responded by noting that the “cut, cap and balance” proposal that passed the House only to be rejected by the Senate “was a bipartisan bill, so we ask all Democrats that want to join with us to put this House on a right path, that they could join with us on this bill.”
The “cut, cap and balance” plan last week received the support of five Democrats, all members of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition.
Voting against the plan were nine House Republicans, most of whom argued that it didn’t go far enough.
This time around, many more Republicans are likely to vote “no,” as the Boehner plan would not ensure that Congress sends a balanced budget amendment to the states before the debt ceiling is raised. It would also call for a bipartisan committee to make decisions on spending cuts, an idea loathed by many members of both parties.
“We need another commission like we need a hole in the head,” said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who was still sizing up Boehner’s proposal Monday evening and was most concerned about the first-year spending numbers.
“You could actually have a scenario where we’re spending more than the current budget, and if we’re getting serious about the deficit, that’s no way to start, so that’s a big concern,” he said.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), one of a handful of members who have already said they plan to oppose the Boehner plan, also criticized the proposal’s committee aspect, calling it “a punt of the highest order.”
Like some other members, freshman Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) said he was concerned about what the credit rating agencies had to say about whether Boehner’s plan was satisfactory.
“I’m not interested in voting for a plan and then ending up with a downgrade anyhow,” Landry said. “It defeats the purpose.”
Adding to House Republican leaders’ worries is that the plan has gained little traction among Democrats, many of whom said after a closed-door caucus meeting Monday evening that they expected few – if any – members of their party to support Boehner’s plan.
“Well, they got five Democrats to vote for the ‘cut, cap and balance,’” House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (S.C.) said, referring to last week’s House vote. “I suspect they can get five to vote for this.”
“There’s unanimity in our caucus about the Boehner plan,” Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) said, echoing a statement made by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in Monday’s caucus meeting that the proposal is “Ryan on steroids,” a reference to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) 2012 budget plan.
And Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said that “there won’t be one Democratic vote for the Boehner plan, and I’m not sure that they can pass it on their side.” He charged that the proposal “is obviously designed just to keep uncertainty going for the entire rest of Obama’s presidency.”
“It’s not designed to raise the debt limit sufficiently now to take care of it for a while, and that’s very bad for the country in terms of the markets and everything else,” he said. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) proposal, by contrast, “is more acceptable” than the Boehner plan but “there are still a lot of problems” with it, Nadler said.
Indeed, Reid’s plan to trim the deficit by $2.7 trillion faces as stiff odds in the Senate as Boehner’s does in the House.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) defended the plan Monday as “a realistic way forward.”
“We’ve done all we can do in this circumstance,” he said. “We tried very hard to get the grand bargain, which is critically important to the country.”
But most Senate Republicans have said they oppose the plan, dismissing the $1.2 trillion in war savings included in it as a budget gimmick. And some Democrats in both chambers have expressed skepticism as well.
The proposal -- even if it secured the backing of all 53 members of the Senate Democratic caucus -- would still need to win the support of seven Republicans to move forward.
“He knows it can’t pass the House and likely can’t get 60 votes in the Senate, so that’s just basically for the sake of having something else out there,” Flake said of Reid’s plan.
Landry called the proposal “a disaster.”
“I don’t think Reid can get that off the floor,” he said. “Reid’s plan uses fuzzy math like they like to do in Washington. It’s in anticipation that the drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq are going to actually come out to real money. Back in the business world, you couldn’t plan like that. You’ve got to know what your cuts are.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said it was important that the Reid plan spares entitlement programs but noted that he wasn’t comfortable with a proposal that doesn’t include new revenue.
“That would be a major concession,” he said. “I believe in shared sacrifice, and clearly we don’t have that here.”
Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), a leading member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, dismissed criticism of the proposal Monday afternoon.
“There’s no smoke and mirrors,” Honda said of Reid’s plan. “I guess if there’s smoke and mirrors, you’ve got to ask what they’re smoking.”
Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.
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