Friday, July 29, 2011


As we head into the weekend, after the Boehner plan squeaked through the House and got clobbered (59-41) in the Senate...I have no idea what's going to happen. Here are some of the things I don't know that I wish I knew:

1. How many votes will the Reid plan get in the Senate?

2. Assuming that's below 60, what would the Democrats have to offer to entice 7-12 Republicans to vote for the Reid plan? So far there's a lot of talk about who will or won't negotiate, but what exactly does a more Lamar Alexander friendly version of the Reid plan look like?

3. If #2 -- how many, if any, Democrats would Reid lose?

4. What would a McConnell-friendly version of the Reid plan look like? Presumably, that would get some 70 or more votes, but what would it look like?

5. Suppose a bill passes the Senate with somewhere from 60 to 65 votes. Would John Boehner be willing to allow a vote?

6. If so, does it get a majority in the House?  Presumably, that would take all or almost all of the Democrats, plus a small minority of Republicans.

7. Boehner would certainly bring up a bill that Reid and McConnell supported and that had received 70+ votes in the Senate. Would it pass the House?

8. If Reid brings a clean one-week debt limit increase to the Senate floor early in the week, would it get 60 votes? Does every Democrat stick for that?

9. If a clean one-week extension passes the Senate, would Boehner allow a vote? Would it pass the House?

10. Suppose none of this happens. What choices would the administration make about how to proceed over the first several days of the post-deadline period? By the way, see Annie Lowrey for a good primer on how it might look.

11. Or would the president blow through the limit?

12. If so, which option would he use: the 14th amendment, the coin, selling options to the Fed, or something else? Or would he just claim some sort of emergency powers inherent in the presidency?

13. Should that happen, would it "work" as far as the economy is concerned?

14. And would the House impeach him?

15. By the way, it's not really related to any of these exactly, but does anyone know just how much of the spending cuts from Reid's bill come out of the Pentagon? Philip Klein did some reporting on this and believes that it's a fairly big number ("hundreds of billions") which is a pretty big chunk of the bill if true -- but I'm not convinced that it is. Anyone?


  1. 16. How much cash does Treasury actually have on hand August 1?

    17. How will revenues flow in during the month of August?( Many people talk as if the total revenue for the month arrives on the 1st. I very much doubt that and assume there would have to be a daily tally of what has cleared the system and can be expended)

  2. Re 2): John Thune says "If Reid takes his plan up, he will probably get a vote on it." So 50 in the Senate may be enough.

  3. Slightly O/T, but did y'all see where Bush 43 gave an interview for the 10th anniversary of 9/11? In the advance clip, he defends his silence in the elementary school as due to concern for the emotional well-being of those children.

    Now, a diarist on Kos will probably jump on that and say what an idiot Bush still is, and then some right wing radio nut will fire back about Obama and the 57 states, but for me...that bit from Bush fills me with an - almost mystical - feeling of awe.

    Like, if I had read that clip from Bush and then an article about aliens landing in Siberia and killing 100,000 natives, and then another about France invading Germany, and Germany immediately surrendering, I'd have said to my wife: "Honey! I just read the craziest thing on the web! Bush still maintains that the appropriate response to the second plane flying into the South Tower was sitting stoicly, not frightening those elementary school kids!"

    What does that have to do with this thread? Well, you can argue that Bush is just an outlier, and maybe if all the chads had fallen in Florida, or the West Palm ballot hadn't been so idiotic, we'd never have known, but regardless, there's now empirical evidence of a Commander-in-Chief defending - 10 years after the fact, with all the opportunities for spin therein - inaction in the face of multiple, fairly obvious acts of war on the basis of possible trauma to a room of random first graders.

    So, as the next few days play out, and we consider all the ways that the (Republican) violation of norms has created a not-so-brave new political world, perhaps the biggest question should be: does the 21st century version of our beloved American experiment have what it takes to manage this empire? After all, it has quite recently shown itself - empirically - to be a miserable failure at producing leaders up to the prodigious task.

    Unless, of course, you agree that the emotional stability of those couple dozen 6-year-olds takes obvious precedence over managing a rapidly unfolding war.

  4. Great list of unks, but doesn't the whole thing boil down to "what combination of pressure and enticement would it take to split the Rs?" The moment that occurs, all of the other details presumably can fall into place. Don't know how much Reid calling for it explicitly affects the dynamic. In normal times it would produce a rally effect against him, but these aren't normal times, or at least are in danger of becoming very abnormal. If all McConnell really wants is Obama's fingerprints on the final package, maybe that makes a McConnell-Reid 65-Senator bipartisan solution has the highest probability.

  5. Picking up on CK's point, the "sane" Repubs in the house need cover. They can't vote for "the Reid Bill" because it's the Reid Bill. Honestly, Boehner needs to talk to Reid and McConnell and point out the fundamental truth: the House GOP can't vote for a Democratic bill, regardless of its content. The GOP doesn't want their fingerprints on this, but that's also the ONLY set of fingerprints that CAN be on it for them to vote for it.

  6. Here's another thought ... Obama blows through it, but doesn't use the 14th Amendment.

    The budget of the United States is a public law. Moreover, the spirit of the impoundment act -- if not the letter of the law, states that the president must spend the money in the budget. You now have three laws which are fundamentally at odds with one another (or more accurately, one law in contradiction with two others). If Obama obeys the debt ceiling, he violates the budget and vice versa, either way laws are being broken.

    Obama gets on national television and states Congress is so dysfunctional that they are now passing contradictory laws which can't even be enforced. The American public, after seeing the last few weeks as the "Congressional Horror Show of Stupid" that it is, buys the argument that one law needs to be broken and he picks the debt ceiling.

    Any complaints from Congress must then acknowledge that it was their incompetency that got us here in the first place, mitigating any chance of a impeachment. If Congress takes it to the Courts, the Courts will dismiss it. But even if they didn't Congress would have to explain why it should enforce one of their laws, but not the other.

    And the imperial presidency marches on...
    NW Kevin

  7. Anonymous/NW Kevin: That's just silly. There is no power in the world that can force Congress to acknowledge reality. If Congress wants to impeach Obama, they will. (Although there's too many Democrats in the Senate to actually remove him from office unless Obama really mucks things up.) Impeachment proceedings are not courts, and thus they aren't required to be consistent with precedent, so they can just say "violating the debt limit is a high crime so shut up."

  8. Impeachment at this point is an emotionally laden word that would have no real-world consequences. So what if Obama is "impeached"? In this case he could wear it as a badge of honor. It's an indictment, not a conviction, and he will never be convicted.

  9. UserGoogol and Anonymous,

    You're both right, the House could impeach him, but he would never be convicted. But politically they shouldn't (which means they probably would).

    Obama could say the entire proceeding was a political trap and no matter what he did, he would be violating the law so he decided to enforce the law which would cause the least immediate harm.

    Besides Republican partisans, who would blame him? The Seniors getting health care? The Doctors getting paid? The Troops? The Bond Market? Heck, the weak economy becomes a political advantage for him by campaigning from the position of "I'm trying to fix the economy and they are playing political games."

    But you're right ... there is no force in the universe that can get Congress to acknowledge reality.

    --NW Kevin

  10. In regards to the last question, the Reid bill (pdf of actual bill) caps "security" spending at $606 billion in FY 2012 and $607 billion in FY 2013. The CBO scoring of the President's budget request shows $696 billion in "defense discretionary" which includes $127 billion for overseas contingency operations. So, had the President's budget only requested $50 billion for OCO in 2012 his defense budget would have been $696 - $77 billion = $619 billion. So the Reid plan appears to cut $13 billion from "security" spending in FY 2012. (Note that the President's 2012 request was already below the CBO's baseline for defense.)

    Given that the "security" spending cap in 2013 only rises $1 billion in FY 2013 to $607 billion, the savings that year would probably be MUCH higher vs. the baseline. Probably on the order of $20-30 billion. (The CBO's January baseline had defense increasing from $710 billion in FY 2012 to $725 billion.) Beginning in FY 2014, the caps are combined.

    Don't take any of this as gospel. I used the actual bill along with CBO's scoring of the President's 2012 budget. First, there may be a difference between "security" spending and "defense discretionary" in the CBO's parlance. Especially since Table S-3 at the end of the President's proposed FY2012 budget shows $881 billion for security spending and $462 billion for non defense discretionary.

  11. Just a thought,,How about a clean bill?

  12. Every plan on raising the debt ceiling has been linked to the condition that the government reduces its budget deficit. However, the lack of jobs is much more important; as many an economist have said before, we have a jobs deficit.

    Why wasn't a bill written that promised a raise in the debt ceiling on the condition that there was an increase in jobs? For example, a debt ceiling raise on the condition that job hirings for the next 12 months averaged, say, 250,000 a month. That would have shifted the debate onto a way more important issue, it would have raised the prospects of getting a debt ceiling raise, and it would have been a much more popular discussion for the public to listen to than this debate on spending cuts or tax/revenue increases

    I know that a promise to spur job growth is not policy; some Congressmen would no doubt argue that they would want to see some actual policy to increase jobs, not just some empty promise. Then again, quite a few Congressmen seem happy to talk about a balanced budget amendment, which by all accounts is not going to guarantee that the government's budget get balanced. Why would a promise to increase job growth be a worse commitment to make?

  13. I think, sanchk, it coulda-shoulda been an anti-balanced budget amendment: The Federal Government shall not balance its budget UNLESS unemployment is <5% and even discussing the debt ceiling would be a highly criminal misdemeanor until such time.

  14. If memory serves, a cut of ~$200b per year takes Defense back to where it was at the end of Reagan's second term. (Obviously a $200b cut equates to $2T over 10 years -a number larger than the total savings Reid claims claimed). It wouldn't be difficult for it to be hundreds of billions over 10 years though....


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