A Republican source conversant in the details of the final debt-ceiling deal talks told Right Turn, and other Republican sources confirmed, that the sides “are pretty close,” but that the final votes will likely take us into Tuesday. The deal can best be described as “Boehner Plus.” In the first tranche of the package, $900 billion in cuts goes into effect.
The second tranche works like this: If a new congressional commission introduces a plan totaling at least $1.5 trillion in cuts by Thanksgiving and it’s passed by Christmas there are no across-the-board cuts. Or, if a balanced budget amendment is passed and sent to the states, then across-the-board cuts are avoided. However, if there is no commission package passed AND the balanced budget amendment is not passed and sent to the states, then across-the-board cuts of $1.2 trillion including Medicare and defense (the details of which aren’t final) go into effect. If the across-the board-cuts go into effect, the debt ceiling is only raised $1.2 trillion (likely insufficient to keep the government operating for long), meaning “we could do this all over again, depending on economic growth.” In other words, if we went to sequestration the total debt-ceiling increase would be $2.1 trillion in two doses.
Procedurally, the Senate would modify the Boehner “message” that came from the House (meaning one cloture vote on the bill sent up from the House) and then send it back to the House. The House likely wouldn’t vote before Tuesday.
From the Republicans’ perspective, the deal improved from last Sunday when the president told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “no” (without direction) on the Boehner-Reid-McConnell deal.
GOP leaders are convinced that the triggers are so scary that it will in fact force the commission to reach agreement. The president at that point will be rooting for a deal as well, since the alternative across-the-board cuts would yield only $1.2 trillion in a debt-ceiling hike and would set up another round of this insanity depending on economic growth.
UPDATE(11:30 a.m.): Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton e-mails me the following in response to news reports last night and earlier today about the potential debt-ceiling trigger for the second round of cuts: “Every indication is that the debt-ceiling negotiations are leaving the defense budget in grave jeopardy. By exposing critical defense programs to disproportionate cuts as part of the ‘trigger mechanism,’ there is a clear risk that key defense programs will be hollowed out. While the trigger mechanism comes into play only if the Congressional negotiators fail to reach agreement on the second phase of spending cuts, it verges on catastrophe to take such a national security risk. Defense has already taken hugely disproportionate cuts under President Obama, and there is simply no basis for expanding those cuts further. Republican negotiators must hold the line, since the Obama Administration plainly will not.”
According to sources close to the negotiations, Republicans are still struggling for some greater protection for defense cuts