Monday, September 19, 2011

Speaker Boehner in a bit of a pickle

I'd love to hear what Mr. "I got 98% of what I wanted" Boehner is thinking right about now. Today, President Obama handed him a hostage crisis of his own.

Before we get there - lets review what led up to this.

As part of the deal to extend the debt limit, Congress formed a "Super Committee" that is tasked with developing a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion. If they don't do so by the end of the year, automatic cuts kick in during 2013 with a massive cut to defense spending (half a trillion dollars).

This morning President Obama unveiled his proposal for the Committee that actually amounts to around $3 trillion in deficit reduction and is heavily weighted towards tax cuts for the wealthy.

But the President threw in this little gem during the announcement of his proposal:

I will not support -- I will not support -- any plan that puts all the burden for closing our deficit on ordinary Americans. And I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay their fair share. We are not going to have a one-sided deal that hurts the folks who are most vulnerable.

So if the Super Committee puts together a plan that doesn't include tax increases for the wealthiest Americans - the President will veto it. And then the automatic cuts to things like defense go into effect.

Speaker Boehner is going to have to figure out whether he'll cause his own political career more damage by agreeing to raise taxes or seeing defense spending gutted.

Welcome to hostage-town Mr. Speaker.

And nicely played Mr. President!


  1. BINGO!PBO's is always a gazillion steps ahead of the GOP. I'm listening to to Robert Reich now on The Last Word, saying the president is back. Pray tell, where did he go?

  2. Question: what's to stop Boehner from introducing a bill to cancel the planned cuts to defense and then challenge the Dems to vote against it?

  3. Chris - Lets play that out. First, what would have to happen is that the Super Committee fails. Either they can't agree to a plan, or they can't get it through Congress or the President vetoes it. Then the automatic cuts are slated to kick in.

    I doubt Democrats in Congress would agree to simply cancel the Defense portion of the cuts. They wold also likely insist that cuts to other programs (ie Medicare) be included as well. Pretty soon - all the deficit reduction goes out the window.

    But in the meantime, in his summary of the deficit reduction plan, Obama made clear that if there was no tax reform completed, he would allow the Bush tax cuts to expire (which is slated to happen Jan. 1, 2013).

    What the Republicans would be looking at is trying to get rid of the defense cuts as well as extend the Bush tax cuts. That sorta makes toast of their claims to be all about deficit reduction. And it puts Boehner in the position of HAVING to get something passed - not blocking Obama's proposals.

    And all of this would have to happen with our current Congressional delegation - Democratic Senate and Republican House.

    I think this is a pretty likely scenario. So it should be interesting to watch.

  4. 3Chics - "Where did he go?"

    He got bogged down in Republican hostage-taking on one side and a total dissing from the left on the other.

    When any of these fools tell me how they would have handled that stuff more successfully than PBO - I'll be happy to listen. But I'm SO done with their whining!

  5. I have not studied the automatic increases if a deal is not reached. Defense spending is one thing, but what else gets cut?

    Also, I have trouble believing a huge cut in defense spending is that big of deal, as we tend not to make defense choices based on price tag. I wonder how that would really go down.

    Anyway, what else gets cut? The GOP may go for it and sacrifice the defense budget. I don't think this chess game is won yet. Obama has gained a strategic threat, but I am not sure who is calculating more moves ahead.

  6. John - I think its hard to grasp how big the cuts to defense would be. There's already $350 billion in cuts agreed to before the Super Committee even gets started. And then, if they fail, its a bit over $500 billion in additional cuts. Perhaps one way to look at it is that they'd be cutting as much from defense as was spent on the Recovery Act.

    In terms of what else, everything gets cut - but with some carve-outs that are protected:

    "...the sequester would be divided equally between defense and non-defense programs, and it would exempt Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, programs for low-income families, and civilian and military retirement. Likewise, any cuts to Medicare would be capped and limited to the provider side."

    So we're talking another $500 billion in cuts across the board in non-defense spending with the above programs excluded.

    As you'll see from my comment to Chris above - I agree that the chess game isn't over yet. Its just that Mr. "I got 98% of what I wanted" Boehner is in a bit more of a pickle than he's admitting.

  7. This is an example of why I'm not too worried -- at least not yet -- about the frightening poll numbers about next year's election. A lot of the discontent with Obama stems from a perception that he's not taking firm enough stands to protect middle-class and worker interests (I'm not talking about the poutragers, but about the broad mass of not-very-politically-engaged people who have only a scattershot sense of what's going on). There's still plenty of time to reverse that perception.

  8. It seems to me the supercommittee, which poutragers are so fearful of, was artfully designed to fail utterly at ever coming to an agreement.

    Seems like a 'discovered attack' in chess, to me. And just as satisfying!

  9. Nagleator - When we've been having this same battle over deficit reduction for months on end with no resolution in sight - then I'd say "yes," the Super Committee is most likely destined to fail. What Democrats got out of that is that the automatic cuts favor our positions almost completely.

    This is why the idea that PBO is a bad negotiator is SOOOOO off base.