Here is a rough breakdown of who got what in this deal (and consider this very much subject to revision, as more information comes in):
What Democrats got:— $40 billion in additional non-defense spending, over and above the caps imposed by the sequester, over two years— a debt limit hike through March of 2017, meaning no more conservative-manufactured debt limit extortion through that date— an end to conservative-manufactured government shutdown drama through the election and beyond— a solution to a glitch in cost-of-living calculations that threatened to hike premiums for millions on Medicare Part B— a reallocation of Social Security funds that Dems had sought to keep disability insurance solventWhat Republicans got:— $40 billion in additional defense spending, over and above the caps imposed by the sequester, over two years, plus an additional chunk of defense spending in a side contingency fund. That is to say, an increase in defense spending overall that is higher than the increase in non-defense spending— Medicare cuts, but (according to reports and experts) only on the provider side— A tightening of eligibility requirements to the Social Security Disability Insurance program that experts say does not equal a benefits cut— a debt limit hike through March of 2017, meaning no more conservative-manufactured debt limit extortion through that date— an end to conservative-manufactured government shutdown drama through the election and beyond— a solution to a glitch in cost-of-living calculations that threatened to hike premiums for millions on Medicare Part B
Careful readers will note that I’m arguing that both Democrats and Republicans got an end to debt limit and government shutdown extortion. There has long been a dominant fiction in Washington that agreeing to lift the debt limit somehow constituted a concession on the part of Republicans for which they should be given something in return by Democrats. In reality, Republican leaders themselves have wanted the debt limit increased — because default would hurt the country — and have acquiesced in the manufacturing of debt ceiling crises mainly in a vain quest to placate conservatives by making it look as if the GOP is “fighting” Obama. Thus, both sides have now been liberated from the need to do this any longer. Meanwhile, both sides wanted the fix to Medicare Part B. Both got that.
On Medicare and Social Security: Nancy Altman, the president of Social Security Works, a group that strenuously opposes benefits cuts and argues for their expansion, tells me that the deal “doesn’t actually cut benefits or really hurt beneficiaries who aren’t gaming the system.”
Altman says the Medicare cuts are all on the provider side, which could harm beneficiaries at some point, but it’s not a major concern. “On the Medicare side, they limited their cuts to far in the future, and to providers,” Altman says. “There’s time to correct that.”
On the change to Social Security, Altman says: “They stiffened the penalties for fraud, they extended nationwide efforts to make sure that payments are accurate and they closed a loophole in which people were gaming the system. They didn’t change eligibility requirements or reduce the level of benefits.”
Altman notes that Republicans had been threatening to demand serious Social Security and Medicare cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit, but adds this threat has been defused. “The hostage has been released,” Altman says.
It still remains to be seen whether today’s deal will pass Congress. But for now, it needs to be judged against the alternative: lower spending levels that would constitute a drag on the recovery; more debt limit and government shutdown crises, with a worst-case scenario involving widespread economic damage (which also could have hurt Dem chances in 2016); a deal in which benefits really were cut.
* BOEHNER STICKS IT TO CONSERVATIVES: Carl Hulse reports that conservatives are already condemning the budget deal, attacking John Boehner as a “rogue agent” because he negotiated it before leaving, which somehow doesn’t count. And:
It also provides one last opportunity to rile the conservatives who called for his scalp while acting in what he sees as the best interests of both the nation and the Republican Party. Mr. Boehner probably sees that as grand enough.
In other words, Boehner has the last word.
* GOP LEADERS PLOT TO GET DEAL PAST CONSERVATIVES: Politico also reports that conservatives are angry about the budget deal, but adds this:
GOP leaders are operating under the assumption that despite the grumblings from the right, they should be able to draw enough votes from the center to comfortably pass the legislation in both chambers.
That means a lot of Democrats will be necessary to pass it. This is the favor Boehner is doing to clear the decks for Paul Ryan, likely the next Speaker. One question is whether conservatives will target Ryan for quietly acquiescing in this arrangement.
* TRUMP ATTACKS BEN CARSON OVER MEDICARE: Ben Carson has come out for replacing Medicare with a private system, though he has since backtracked. On Morning Joe today, Donald Trump hit Carson as follows:
“Ben wants to knock out Medicare. He wants to abolish Medicare. Abolishing Medicare, I don’t think you’re going to get away with that one. It’s actually a program that’s worked. It’s a program that some people love.”
Well, this should get interesting. Let’s hear the two GOP frontrunners debate whether to scrap Medicare!
* CARSON-MENTUM RAGES ACROSS THE LAND: A new CBS News/New York Times poll finds that Ben Carson has surged into the lead among Republicans nationally:
Twenty-six percent of Republican primary voters back Carson, giving him a four-point edge over Trump (22 percent). Support for Carson has quadrupled since August. The rest of the Republican presidential candidates lag far behind in single digits. Marco Rubio is now in third place (eight percent), followed by Jeb Bush (seven percent) and Carly Fiorina (seven percent). All other candidates are at four percent or lower.
Also on Morning Joe today, Trump, asked about Carson’s poll surge, kept repeating in a bewildered tone: “I don’t get it.” Still, the polling average has Trump up 10 points.
* GOP ESTABLISHMENT PONDERS TRUMP AS NOMINEE: Bloomberg News reports that GOP strategists are increasingly worried that Donald Trump really could win the nomination. Says consultant Steve Schmidt:
“Anybody who thinks Donald Trump cannot be the Republican nominee is smoking something. What was once described as a spring fling or a summer romance is lingering well past Halloween and into November.”
As the story notes: Trump has led in many polls for longer time than is left between now and the first voting in Iowa. And: “his path to the nomination is clear if his large lead translates to getting the most votes and delegates. ”
* TRUMP QUIETLY BUILDING AN ORGANIZATION: The Boston Globe reports a counter-intuitive tidbit: Trump’s campaign has spent $1 million on organizing in the early nominating states. That’s more than any of this rivals.
This guy Trump doesn’t appear to know he’s supposed to be a sideshow. He’s acting like he can actually be the nominee.
* TED CRUZ’S DIABOLICAL PLAN FOR WORLD DOMINATION: Politico’s Shane Goldmacher has a fascinating look at the plans Ted Cruz is laying to come from behind and capture the nomination. Note this interesting glimpse into his campaign’s thinking:
From the start, Cruz and his political brain trust have divided the 2016 primary into four clear lanes: a moderate-establishment lane, in which he would not compete; a tea party lane, which he needed to dominate; an evangelical lane, where he had strong potential but little initial traction; and a libertarian lane, which began as the turf of Rand Paul.
The Cruz camp believes the last three voter groups are collapsing into one that will unite behind him in the end. As one GOP strategist puts it: “He’s not to be underestimated.”