Published Tuesday, July 26, 2011 | 2:50 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, July 27, 2011 | 1:11 a.m.
Sen. Harry Reid said this afternoon that House Speaker John Boehner’s debt limit bill would be “dead on arrival” in the Senate. Same goes for the White House, which said Tuesday that President Barack Obama would veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
And by the end of the day, it didn’t look like Boehner had a bill at all.
Boehner has been trying to promote a short-term, $1 trillion hike in the debt ceiling paid for by $1.2 trillion in cuts as the latest version of “Cut, Cap and Balance” — the House Republican plan to cap spending and advance a constitutional balanced budget amendment.
But turns out his accounting was wrong: a Congressional Budget Office score of the bill, completed late Tuesday, found that the cuts in Boehner’s package only cut about $850 billion, thereby breaking his own rule that for every dollar by which the debt limit is raised, spending must be cut by a dollar or more. That considerable error sent his bill back to the drafting table Tuesday night.
Even before the error was revealed though, the most ardent guardians of "Cut, Cap and Balance" weren’t buying it.
“I am confident as of this morning, there were not 218 Republicans in support of the plan,” said Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who thinks Boehner’s plan is a sellout to the basic principle of balancing the budget.
Boehner’s plan would require both houses of Congress to vote on a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution before October, but it would have no bearing on whether the president could then raise the debt limit. That would hinge on whether Congress could pass whatever budget a 12-member joint commission of lawmakers recommends.
They don’t like that either.
“If six Democrats and one Republican decide they want to raise taxes, it comes to the floor,” Jordan said.
Boehner’s bill isn’t just dividing conservatives; it’s also dividing conservative organizations. Although the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Grover Norquist’s low-tax-pledge organization “Americans for Tax Reform” stressed it was vital to pass, the Club for Growth and the Heritage Foundation both said it wasn’t aggressive enough about cutting debt to merit a vote.
The early defections spell trouble for Boehner’s bill, which won’t receive any support from across the aisle.
“It’s preposterous on its face that we’d want to subject the country to this six months from now,” said Nevada Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, adding she thinks there is “more meat on the bones” of Reid’s proposal. “A six-month extension (of the debt ceiling) is a waste of time, and it’s unnecessary to put the nation through this again.”
And in the Senate, Reid has said it is a nonstarter.
Although Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell still supports Boehner, defections have begun among Republicans.
“Unfortunately, I cannot in good conscience support the Boehner proposal in its current construct,” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted this afternoon.
The Aug. 2 deadline to raise the debt limit is one week away. But time remains for changes, of course.
The division in Republican ranks could also be a compulsion to scrap the us-or-them approach and opt for the bipartisan compromise Obama was calling for as late as Monday night.
Reid said Tuesday that a recent conversation with McConnell gives "hope," and if Boehner fails to produce a replacement plan, it could build consensus toward a compromise proposal.
Yet both the Senate and the House appear to be stalling as much as politically possible. Boehner had announced a vote on his proposal for Wednesday, but it has been moved to Thursday; meanwhile, Reid hasn’t yet filed the procedural motion that will allow the bill to come up for a filibuster vote 30 hours later, which means the Senate won’t be voting on Reid’s proposal until at least Thursday either.
The delays might buy negotiators time to come up with the bipartisan plan Obama asked for in a televised address Monday night, or it could allow time for building as much political momentum as possible: If Boehner’s plan fails Thursday, that could build momentum for Reid’s proposal.
But Republicans have problems with Reid’s bill — mainly that $1 trillion of the $2.7 trillion in cuts he counts on come from declining war funding. Republicans call it gimmicky accounting.
“I don’t think that we’re going to spend a trillion dollars over the next 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan — the president has already said he’s going to draw it down,” said Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller. “It’s typical Washington, D.C.”
McConnell, when asked Tuesday, would not say whether he had enough Republican senators lined up to block Reid’s bill from advancing this week. Democrats aren’t sure either if they’ll be able to draw enough Republicans — they need seven — to get it through.