GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are meeting behind closed doors to fashion a hybrid, last-ditch deal to raise the debt-ceiling -- but there’s every indication the grass-roots led GOP caucus in the House intends to reject it.
Friday’s developments marked the latest chapter in the debt-ceiling drama, which comes as the Obama administration’s self-imposed
deadline to raise the debt limit looms just 18 days away now.
The McConnell-Reid negotiations, sources say, basically signal that Republicans, Democrats, and President Barack Obama have given up for now on negotiating any grand bargain that would seek to address the nation’s longer-term debt problems.
Instead, House and Senate members are retreating to their respective caucuses, to pass legislation reflecting their separate political realities.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the McConnell-Reid plan would incorporate three elements:
1. Some spending cuts -- most of which are back-loaded to take effect several years down the road. Even OMB director Jack Lew has said all of the supposedly $1.4 trillion in cuts identified by Vice-President Joe Biden would only bring $2 billion in savings next year.
2. A modest increase in the debt ceiling of probably no more than $1 trillion. This is far less than the $2.5 trillion deal President Obama would need to move the issue of the ballooning national debt off the table until after the 2012 elections, which would be a tactical victory for Republicans who want to keep the deficit issue in the spotlight.
3. Creation of a select committee, modeled on the base-closure commission that has been used to trim defunct military facilities, to identify additional spending cuts, tax-revenue increases, and changes to entitlement programs. Any recommendations from the select committee would be subject to a straight up-and-down vote in Congress, without the opportunity for members to add amendments, sources say.
Assuming Reid and McConnell are able to work out a last-minute deal, the drama then would shift to the House. But there, reaction to McConnell’s plan to give the president de facto authority to raise the debt limit through 2012 in three installments, or “tranches,” has been decidedly cool.
Strong political forces are lining up to block the Reid-McConnell compromise in the House. FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe tells Newsmax the grass roots will oppose “any deal that maintains the status quo or phony window-dressing commissions that abdicate congressional responsibility to cut our debt.
“We will insist on real substantial cuts in spending and real structural reforms. Should a phony deal pass the Senate, we will defeat it in the House with a unified block of Tea Party Freshmen and Republican votes,” he said.
Heritage Foundation fellow and former Oklahoma GOP Rep. Ernest Istook pointed out that 59 Republican House members revolted against GOP leadership in March when a reputed $38 billion cut was scored by the Congressional Budget Office as really only saving about $350 million from current year’s spending.
“People need to know, and have a right to know, what’s being discussed instead of all these self-serving numbers that they announce that give you the illusion of making major cuts, but without giving you the chance to verify it,” Istook tells Newsmax.
Word on the Hill, Istook says, is that the revolt against the McConnell deal would be even stronger than the protest vote against the continuing resolution in March.
“Any expectation that if you let people get over this hump they will immediately go to work and find a long-term solution is fantasy thinking, because without the pressure of the current conditions … they are not going to reform,” Istook says.
He adds that he believes the risks of making “a political-gimmick deal” without fundamental reform is now greater than the risk of the disruptions financial markets could face if Congress fails to pass a debt-ceiling increase by Aug. 2.
Those observations indicate the strength of the tea-party revolt in the GOP House caucus OVER the deficit is much stronger and more committed than is generally assumed. GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who was White House budget director under former President George W. Bush, told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd Friday that there is no guarantee the Senate’s “Plan B” proposal would be able to get enough votes to pass in the House.
“I think it can get through the Senate, I’m not sure it can get through the House,” Portman said. “But we’re in much better shape than we were just a few days ago, when we were talking about even going into this post debt-limit with nothing -- in other words, possible default -- or on the other hand not having any cuts at all, and just allowing it to be extended.”
In the House, Republican leaders have decided to move forward with their own “cut, cap, and balance” plan, although there is no indication either Senate Democrats or the president would accept it.
On Friday, the House Republican conference met at 8 a.m. and doubled-down on their commitment to cut federal spending, cap spending as at 18 percent of GDP, push forward on a balanced-budget amendment, and continue to hold the line against any new taxes.
Burned by the continuing resolution compromise, and mystified that Democrats have continued to bargain for new government spending and higher tax revenues amidst a fiscal crisis and a serious economic downturn, fiscal hawks simply no longer believe that Washington ever change its big-spending ways until it simply has no other alternative. And they appear to be willing to accept the serious political and short-term financial risks that would accompany that principled stance.
“Washington won't ever do the right thing until every other option is taken off the table,” Kibbe said. “The tea party class has been systematically taking phony solutions to our very real debt crisis off the table.”
After the GOP’s Friday morning’s meeting, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told reporters: “We want to be able to go home to the people who elected us and show them that we are not going to allow this kind of spending to continue.”
House Speaker John Boehner, however, has refused to rule out the possibility that some version of McConnell’s proposal could ultimately come into play.
Asked Friday if House Republicans could support it, Boehner said the question was premature. “We are far from the times for a last-ditch effort,” he said.
But House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., could be seen standing behind Boehner slowly shaking his head as the Speaker handled that question. And other leaders in the GOP caucus have been much more blunt in their response.
“I would say, ‘No way,” said Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, who heads the conservative Republican Study Committee.
Florida GOP Rep. Tom Rooney echoed that reaction.
“Everybody I’ve talked to over here says, ‘No way,’” he said.
Wisconsin GOP Rep. Paul Ryan told MSNBC’s Morning Joe hosts Friday that House Republicans are motivated by what makes the best long-term policies, rather than politics.
"What we have here is a lack of leadership from the White House on what we know is mathematically necessary to fix this problem,” he said. “And that's scary to me."
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