In the Debt-Limit Battle, Nothing Is As It Seems

Start with Paul Krugman, who writes in his column today that progressives should be glad that Republicans will not accept any deficit-reduction deal that has the word “Democrat” attached to it. Why? Because the plan Republicans are pushing is more progressive than the plan Pres. Obama wants:

What Obama has offered — and Republicans have refused to accept — is a deal in which less than 20 percent of the deficit reduction comes from new revenues. This puts him slightly to the right of the average Republican voter.

So we learn two things. First, Obama is extraordinarily eager to make concessions. Second, Republicans are incredibly unwilling to take yes for an answer — something for which progressives should be grateful.

Sam Stein has a highly readable explanation of a joint Republican-Democratic plan that Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid are putting together:

The plan, which is being hatched by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), would ensure that over $1.5 trillion in cuts over ten years be passed into law. It would also grant President Obama the authority to extend the debt ceiling through the 2012 election season while requiring him to propose — but allowing him to ultimately veto — cuts beyond those initial $1.5 trillion.

Additionally, the deal would create a new “deficit commission” comprised solely of lawmakers who would be tasked with finding additional savings in the budget. The commission’s recommendations would be given automatic, amendment-free votes in both chambers of Congress.

Here’s why this “hybrid” plan might appeal to both Republicans and Democrats:

The basic premise is to blend the debt ceiling deal crafted in talks led by Vice President Joe Biden with the plan that McConnell proposed this week, which would give the president authority to raise the debt ceiling while vetoing corresponding cuts.


As the dual plan is envisioned, House Republicans would be able to claim that they passed a deal without including revenue raisers or tax hikes. The president, meanwhile, will be able to move the debt ceiling debate into 2013, albeit while having to hold a largely pre-determined vote for a second extension (once the $1.5 trillion in cuts run out) before the election. Democrats would have to swallow a deal that didn’t include revenues, but they will have protected entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare from cuts.

From where I’m sitting (at a desk in the living room of an apartment for which the monthly rent is paid by the lion’s share of a monthly SSD check), this plan looks like the best of a bad lot. But apparently, Barack Obama favors another plan that is much lighter on the revenue side and much deeper on the spending cuts side — including to Medicare and Social Security.

Ezra Klein has the details and analysis:

A lot of Democrats took one look at the McConnell plan, which would raise the debt ceiling without substantive fiscal concessions, and saw their way out of this mess. But not the White House. What’s come clear in recent weeks is that the Obama administration is much more intent on reaching a major deficit deal, and much less intent on making revenues a major part of it, than most observers assumed.


That’s led them to offer Republicans a deal that is not only much farther to the right than anyone had predicted, but also much farther to the right than most realize. In addition to the rise in the Medicare eligibility age and the cuts to Social Security and the minimal amount of revenues, it’d cut discretionary spending by $1.2 trillion, which is an absolutely massive attack on that category of spending.

This deal isn’t just a last-ditch effort to save the economy from the damage of a federal default. The White House would far prefer this deal to the McConnell plan, or to the $2 trillion deal that was under consideration during the Biden negotiations. So why are administration officials so committed to striking a deal composed of policies they’ve mostly opposed?

Short answer: Because they think out-Republicaning the Republicans on the deficit will help get Obama a second term. To steal from Adam Levine, it’s one of the things that makes Democrats who they are.


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