WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders released dueling proposals to increase the debt limit on Monday, eight days before the Aug. 2 default deadline. The plans did little to break the partisan stalemate, at least publically, between Democrats and Republicans, who seem more entrenched than ever in their views on how to best reduce the country’s budget deficits.
Some Republican members of the Minnesota congressional delegation seemed open to supporting the plan introduced by House Speaker John Boehner; Senate Democratic leadership and the White House lined up behind a plan introduced by Majority Leader Harry Reid; and back-to-back national addresses from President Barack Obama and Boehner made it clear to the entire nation what those inside the Beltway have known all summer: Compromise is not something that will come easily in this debate.
Republicans offer a two-part plan
After last week’s defeat of the Cut, Cap and Balance legislation in the Senate, Republican leadership in the House sought to present a plan that maintained as much of that legislation’s principles as possible. They introduced a plan Monday that would:
- Raise the debt limit by $1 trillion.
- Cut current and cap future discretionary spending immediately, saving $1.2 trillion over 10 years.
- Require that Congress vote on a balanced budget amendment after Oct. 1 but before the end of the year.
- Create a joint committee to craft legislation to reduce the deficit by $1.8 trillion over 10 years. If that legislation is enacted, it would allow Obama to request an additional $1.6 trillion debt limit increase, something he’d have to do in 2012.
Minnesota Republicans offered guarded reviews for the plan Monday.
Rep. John Kline said the new plan fulfills the Republicans’ priorities of cutting spending more than the size of the debt increase, instituting controls on future spending and putting a balanced budget amendment up for a vote. He said he was open to supporting the new plan, though he hadn’t seen the final legislative language.
“The outline that I heard today achieves our aims. I expect that I’ll support it,” Kline said in an interview off the House floor Monday.
Rep. Chip Cravaack, who voted for Cut, Cap and Balance, said he would need to study the plan and its specific provisions, like the savings panel, more before committing to it.
Erik Paulsen, speaking with Minnesota Public Radio on Monday morning before he was presented with details of the plan, said he would be uncomfortable with the short-term debt limit extensions like the one in this proposal.
“We need a long-term solution because the business community is looking for certainty,” he said. “Washington always has a history of short term solutions, both Republican and Democrats … if we cut spending and cap spending, we’ll make significant progress.”
Boehner said the new plan is “less than perfect,” but “it’s based on the principles of Cut, Cap and Balance that can pass the House and Senate.”
But Boehner will be lucky if this plan gets the strong support from his caucus that Cut, Cap and Balance did. The sponsor of that legislation, Utah’s Jason Chaffetz tweeted his opposition to the Boehner plan and Jim Jordan of Ohio, the chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee, released a statement against the proposal, indicating ardent conservatives will need to be persuaded to support it.
Kline, a big Cut, Cap and Balance supporter and a member of the Study Committee, said the Aug. 2 default deadline is likely to force just that to happen.
“The clock is winding down, the calendar is winding down, if we can get the basic elements of what we want … and we do it in a bill that least one time has [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid’s support, then I think that makes good strategic and tactical sense.”
Democrats offer $2.7 trillion in cuts
But if Kline is looking for Reid’s support for the Boehner plan, he’s not going to find it.
“Republicans’ short term plan is a non-starter in the Senate and the White House,” Reid said Monday,” and certainly Democrats in the House agree whole-heartedly with us.”
Reid and Senate leaders publicized their plan just as House Republicans were meeting on theirs. The Democrats’ plan cuts $2.7 trillion over 10 years and approves a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt limit. Of the savings in the plan are $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending cuts, $70 billion in cuts from mandatory spending programs (but no cuts to social safety nets like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security) and $1 trillion saved from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Reid said the plan’s cuts are similar to those agreed upon when congressional leaders were negotiating a deficit reduction deal with Vice President Joe Biden.
The plan was only formally introduced in the Senate late Monday, and neither office for Minnesota’s two senators would immediately offer an opinion on the plan. But Rep. Keith Ellison gave it an initially positive review, telling MSNBC, “It certainly does give us a chance, we do believe it has our basic requirement which is to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. … We still want to parse through it to make sure we know what we’re in for.”
The proposal did get support from the White House, with Press Secretary Jay Carney saying in a statement, “The plan would make a meaningful down payment in addressing our fiscal challenge, and we could continue to work together to build on it with a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes additional spending reforms and closing tax loopholes for corporations, millionaires and billionaires.”
Boehner, however, was not impressed by the offer.
“I believe the plan is full of gimmicks,” he said. “We’re not making any real changes in the spending structure of our government, and it doesn’t deal with … entitlement programs.”
Compounding the public disagreements between Democrats and Republicans was the spectacle of a nationally televised back-and-forth between Obama and Boehner on Monday night.
From the East Room of the White House, Obama warned the country of the ill effects failing to raise the debt ceiling would have on the global economy and repeated his assertion that the Democrats’ preferred plan of cutting spending and raising some revenue was a balanced approach to easing the federal deficit.
“It would reduce the deficit by around $4 trillion and put us on a path to pay down our debt, and the cuts wouldn’t happen so abruptly that they’d be a drag on our economy, or prevent us from helping small businesses and middle-class families get back on their feet right now,” he said.
Boehner, from the Capitol, told the nation the Republican plan was a way to fundamentally change the spending habits of the federal government.
“President Obama came to Congress in January and requested business as usual — yet another routine increase in the national debt limit. We in the House said ‘not so fast,’ ” he said. “The president wanted a blank check six months ago, and he wants a blank check today. That is just not going to happen.”
As if the political divisions needed any more clarity, Minnesota’s two presidential candidates weighed in. Tim Pawlenty said Obama was “lecturing the country instead of leading it” and “tonight’s speech was all rhetoric and no results, and is another reason why President Obama needs to be removed from office.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann said: “Shame on President Obama for casting the American people aside as collateral damage, as he continues his political gamesmanship with the national debt crisis.”
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org