A lot of attention in the debt debate has focused on the theatrics between the White House and the House Republicans. They’ve had some high-profile meetings that accomplished nothing. The two sides called bluffs and names. No one following the debate closely thinks that the Republicans’ plan to cut (more than $100 billion from next year’s budget), cap (set statutory limits on spending at 18.5 percent of GDP ) and balance (a constitutional amendment) or the president’s grand bargain (the content of which was never clear) will carry the day.
Obama issued a cautionary threat Monday to veto the measure should it pass Congress. The White House said the bill would set up an “unacceptable choice” between a disastrous failure to lift the nation’s borrowing limit or passing a balanced budget amendment that would require draconian spending cuts in Medicare, Social Security and other federal programs.
“This is a measure designed to . . . duck responsibility, dodge obligations and dismantle, eventually, if signed into law, our social safety net,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at his daily briefing.
So which is it — it ducks or it does too much?
But say this for the House Republicans: They are going to vote today on their cut, cap and balance agenda and pass a debt ceiling plan, just as they passed a 2012 budget.
What about the House Democrats? A senior House Republican advisor said he doesn’t expect a single Democratic yes vote on cut, cap and balance. So what is the House Democrats’ alternative? They don’t have one. Neither they nor the the president ever put one out there in definitive, CBO-scored form. So the ducking and the dodging accusations seem to more aptly apply to those who have no alternative and, instead, just vote “no.”
Then we go over to the Senate. The cut, cap and balance plan may get a vote (at least a vote on cloture). You can expect all the Senate Democrats to vote no. All 47 Senate Republicans have already signed on to the balanced budget amendment. But the Senate Democrats, like their House colleagues, lack a debt ceiling plan, just as they lacked, and still lack, their own budget plan.
Then, perhaps, the McConnell plan emerges. Do Senate Democrats vote no on that as well (because it entails three votes to raise the debt ceiling that will place the burden on them to sustain the president’s vetoes)?
You have to stop and wonder what in the world incumbent Democrats hope to run on in 2012. Hey, we did nothing! Not very compelling.
The House Republicans have been criticized for over-promising results to their base. The White House hollers at them for refusing to raise taxes (an increasingly reasonable position given that we may be headed for a double-dip recession). But Senate Democrats have done nothing other than harp and follow the president’s lead.
And there is the rub: By waiting for President Obama to do something, or for the Republicans to give up on their first final position, House and Senate Democrats have left themselves open to the very valid claim that they have been fiddling while the economy burns. Obama can run, I suppose, on a do-nothing Congress, but Senate and House Democrats can’t.
There will be time for compromise after the House and perhaps Senate vote on cap, cut and balance. But look for the Senate Democrats to be especially eager to make a deal. Otherwise they set themselves up for an avalanche of ads and attacks on their failure to pass a budget or a debt ceiling plan.