Liberal and other analysts today are emphasizing the similarities between John Boehner’s debt limit/deficit proposal and Harry Reid’s plan (see here, here, and here). And that’s true when it comes to the level of front-line cuts both plans offer.
But it’s worth emphasizing that the two plans are not the same at all. And above all, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Reid plan is much, much better for liberals than is the Boehner plan.
The first difference is the total cuts. Everyone is emphasizing that Reid’s front-line totals are very similar to Boehner’s. But bookkeeping cuts, which analysts are ignoring, buy Reid an extra year of debt-limit extension in exchange for, basically, nothing at all, meaning that Reid slashes government far less than Boehner does.
Both plans keep open, through the creation of a new joint committee, the hope of a Grand Bargain that would make all of this essentially a moot point. With Reid, however, if a Grand Bargain isn’t reached then that’s the end of it; with Boehner, Democrats would be back to needing to find a dollar of spending cuts for every dollar of debt limit extension. In other words, assuming no Grand Bargain, under Boehner’s plan the $1 trillion-plus in Reid’s plan that is made up of bookkeeping cuts would be replaced, next year, by $1 trillion-plus in real cuts (or, once again, default would loom). So barring a successful Grand Bargain, Boehner’s plan calls for twice the cuts to real government programs and activities as Reid’s plan.
The second set of differences is harder to see from the details that have been reported so far, but they’re about timing and location of the cuts. By all accounts, the revamped Boehner plan is going to be more frontloaded than was his initial offer, because Republicans (to some extent with good reason) don’t trust future Congresses to be bound by decisions made now. Liberals prefer backloaded cuts, partially because they’re less real, but especially because liberals believe that up-front cuts will hurt the economy more while it’s still fragile at best. This is another way that the Reid plan is superior.
Reid’s proposal may also be better in terms of composition of cuts. Some of Reid’s rhetoric suggested that discretionary cuts will come, under his plan, from the Pentagon; I haven’t seen any similar rhetoric from Boehner, though details are scarce.
In my view, the differences between the two plans are substantively very significant. Boehner’s plan offer real, substantial cuts to programs that liberals care about and that conservatives want to cut. Reid’s plan treads more lightly. The differences between the two plans are still very much worth fighting over.