I actually don’t completely blame the mainstream media or the left blogosphere. Most of these folks aren’t good at math and/or don’t have a grasp of budget details. But when they accept at face value a budget number from Democratic leadership and use a different method of evaluation than one applied to Republicans, you begin to wonder if there isn’t some willful ignorance going on.
Today the Congressional Budget Office delivered the news to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that his plan, which was touted as a better spending cut measure than the Boehner plan, isn’t. At least if you do the math.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, put out a statement that reads in part: “This report shows the Senate plan for what it is: a grab-bag of gimmicks that gives the President a blank check. In contrast to the bill House Republicans have offered, the Senate Democratic bill counts as ‘savings’ a trillion dollars in war money that would never have been spent — and on top of that, slashes the defense budget in a manner that would hurt our men and women in uniform in a time of war. It relies on smoke and mirrors for half of its ‘savings,’ yet still cuts $500 billion less than promised. In reality, the Reid plan would only save taxpayers about $1 trillion while giving the President the largest debt limit increase in history. Despite previous claims, it significantly falls short of the requirement that we cut more than we increase in the debt limit. ‘
The CBO’s response to Reid confirms this. “Relative to the adjusted March baseline, proposed budget authority — excluding funding for OCO [wars we are going to end anyway] — would be nearly $840 billion lower and outlays about $750 billion lower over in the 2012-2021 period (see Table 1).” That is LESS, not more, than Boehner’s $850 billion number.
Yuval Levin e-mails me some clarification. He writes: “The Boehner bill sought to raise the debt ceiling by $1 trillion and make $1.2 trillion in cuts (with another round of cuts to come next year when the debt ceiling would need to be raised again). The Reid bill sought to raise the debt ceiling by $2.7 trillion and make $3 trillion in cuts.” The two plans, Levin tells me, shared a common methodology: Use of the January rather than the March baseline. That means, as Levin explains, “Both have the same problem, in other words, and both fall short of the 1-for-1 ratio of cuts to debt-ceiling increase.” The issue then is not whose number is “bigger.” It is that Reid’s plan does not cut more than the debt ceiling is raised; Boehner’s does.
The fact that Reid’s bill as a whole still has a larger number isn’t news — he would increase the debt ceiling into 2013 and uses budget gimmicks (like counting the Iraq and Afghanistan drawdowns that Boehner does not count) to reach for a higher figure. Boehner’s bill has a shorter term debt-ceiling increase with a proportionally smaller set of cuts (but they are more real concrete cuts), and his bill would require another round of cutting for another debt-ceiling increase next year. That hasn’t changed, all that has changed with the CBO scores is that both bills were found to be short of their authors’ claims to the same degree. Boehner has responded to that by re-writing his bill to have it meet the original goal. We’ll see of Reid does the same. If not, his bill would have even less chance of getting any Republican votes.
Oh, yes, and the reports don’t “count” Boehner’s second step ($1.8 trillion), which if not enacted, halt the debt ceiling increases altogether.
Meanwhile, sources reporting from Boehner’s meeting with his caucus were cautiously positive about the Boehner bill’s prospects. A House source said simply, “Members are rallying around the speaker.” In a positive sign, House hard-liner Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) made a floor statement urging members to “to “keep an open mind on the Boehner plan.”
Boehner was also boosted by support from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who turned up the heat on the White House. In a floor speech, he said: “From what I can tell, the only thing in this bill the President hasn’t already expressed his support for either publicly or privately is that it doesn’t get him through his election without having to engage in another national discussion about the debt crisis that’s brought us to this point. So I would ask these senior advisers whether that’s a position they want to put the President in. Do they really intend to suggest that he veto the nation into default for political reasons?” And then he threw his support behind the Boehner bill. “The nation’s had a chance to see the Speaker at his best over the past few days. Unlike the President, he not only put forward actual legislation to prevent this crisis, he’s keeping his promise to cut spending more than any increase in the debt limit – with no tax hikes.” He concluded, “There’s only one option that [cuts more than the debt limit increase with no taxes]: and that’s the one Speaker Boehner has proposed, and that is being improved as we speak.”
I know, it does get dizzying. But here is the bottom line: Boehner has a chance to rally his side and maybe strengthen his bill. There is no other coherent alternative that can pass either house. So what does everyone want to do?