Roby Column - July 25, 2011
The Debt Debate: A Viewer’s Guide
The upcoming August 2 deadline to cut future spending, reduce the deficit, and avoid default by raising the debt limit is just days away.
High-level negotiations between President Barrack Obama, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) continue, but have not yet produced a final package. Negotiations are fluid, and members suggest different proposals each day. To meet the deadline, the House must consider legislation by July 28 to provide the Senate enough time to act. Such a tight deadline makes for an interesting week in Washington.
Based on conversations with my constituents, I know the debt limit is on the minds of many people in our area. I also know that many people find this debate to be complicated and confusing, and understandably so.
To help you follow the debate, I want to provide a brief description of the various proposals on the table. Consider it a “viewer’s guide” to a decision making process that will have profound consequences for future generations of Americans. (In previous columns, I have made clear my view that any debt limit increase must include significant and straightforward spending cuts. Budget gimmicks will not suffice. We need real reform.)
As of this writing, the half-a-dozen proposals listed below remain under consideration. Keep in mind that, given the fluid nature of discussions, specifics are sometimes lacking and could change—and, as we all know, the devil is in the details.
President Obama originally requested a Clean Debt Increase from Congress, which would increase the government’s ability to borrow money without imposing any restrictions on future spending. The House of Representatives rejected that approach in May, sending a clear message to the White House: Congress will pass a debt increase only if it is accompanied by significant spending cuts. (I voted against this clean debt increase.)
- The Cut, Cap, and Balance Act would cut federal spending in Fiscal Year 2012, statutorily cap expenditures over the next decade, and send a balanced budget amendment to the states for ratification. The House approved the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act last week by a vote of 234-190. (I voted in favor of the Act.) After Majority Leader Reid referred to it as some of the “worst legislation” in history, the Senate disregarded the bill. Even so, Speaker Boehner has repeatedly referred to the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act’s principles as important guidelines in this debate.
- The Gang of Six Plan is a bipartisan proposal that would reportedly reduce future deficits by $3.7 trillion. Few details of the “Gang” plan have been made public, but it is widely expected that the plan includes significant revenue raisers—code for new taxes.
- The McConnell Plan is a failsafe for raising the debt limit. Under the plan, the House and Senate would empower the president to raise the debt limit up to $2.4 trillion in three separate tranches. Each increase would be subject to a Resolution of Disapproval by the Congress, which the President would likely veto. (A variation of the plan, referred to as “McConnell-Reid,” would attach unspecified spending reductions and create a commission to identify larger cuts.) Under the plan, the commission’s proposed cuts would be fast-tracked to an up-or-down vote in Congress.
- The Grand Bargain is the name given to the larger package that Speaker Boehner and President Obama pursued in a series of White House meetings. According to reports, a mix of entitlement reforms, discretionary spending cuts, and future tax code simplifications totaling $4 trillion or more in deficit reductions were under consideration. Work on the “Grand Bargain” appears to have ceased when Speaker Boehner walked away from talks after President Obama insisted on $1.2 trillion in new revenues—fifty percent more than previously discussed.
- As of this writing, House and Senate leaders are drafting separate measures without direct input from the White House. The two-step Republican-House plan would include a short-term, $900 billion extension of the debt limit in exchange for $1.2 trillion in discretionary cuts over the next decade. It would also impose statutory caps on future spending and require that both the House and Senate take an up-or-down vote on a balanced budget amendment before the end of the year. The second step of the plan would create a 12-member bipartisan committee to identify $1.8 trillion in additional cuts by November 23. If enacted, the president would then be allowed to increase the debt by another $1.6 trillion. According to news reports, the Senate-Democrat plan would increase the debt limit and reduce future deficits by $2.7 trillion. The specifics of this plan are currently unknown, except that it would likely contain $1.2 trillion in discretionary cuts over the next decade, including reductions to Pentagon funding. (As I write, it appears that the House will soon vote on the Republican-House plan.)
As we consider this legislation, it is critical that Congress make decisions based on the next generation—not the next election. We need to act in the long-term national interest, not in the short-term political interest. Your opinions and ideas are important to me, and I have sought to distribute information, keep you informed, and listen to your ideas. I encourage you to let me know your thoughts on any of the proposals mentioned above.