Harry Reid’s plan wins the austerity sweepstakes

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s verdict is in on the two debt ceiling plans offered by House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and it’s decisive: Reid’s plan offers significantly larger cuts:

The Congressional Budget Office estimates Reid’s plan would reduce the deficit by $2.2 trillion over the next decade. Reid had hoped to save $2.7 trillion.

On Tuesday, GOP leaders were forced to re-write their legislation to raise the debt ceiling when the CBO said Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) proposal would only reduce the deficit by $850 billion over 10 years, instead of the $1.2 trillion Boehner had estimated.

Boehner’s plan has another problem: It reportedly wouldn’t prevent rating agencies from downgrading U.S. debt, and it would force a second vote on the debt ceiling. Nevertheless, Republicans are trying to rally support for Boehner’s bill, though it’s still unclear if it can pass.

Setting aside the insanity of both major parties running an ever-escalating austerity race at a time when the unemployment rate is high and the sluggish recovery is at risk, Reid’s plan, despite saving more money, may paradoxically have much more trouble passing both houses of Congress.

One of the odd dynamics of the debt ceiling debate is that even when the president has been willing to give Republicans what they want — like offering cuts to entitlements — Republicans have rejected his offers. It seems as though to pass the House, an austerity proposal can’t simply contain substantial cuts, it has to be able to be portrayed as a rebuke to the president. Which means that even though Reid’s plan beats out Boehner’s in the austerity competition — and even though spending cuts are what Republicans say they want above all else — it may still not be enough to garner support from Republicans in the House.

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