John Boehner’s debt limit bill, dead-on-arrival in the Senate, is on autopilot for passage in the House this evening. If as expected he sends it over to the upper chamber to be killed, he will actually speed up the process by which the Senate can pass its final debt limit bill, for parliamentary reasons outlined at the bottom of this post.
So the great guessing game in the Capitol right now is figuring out 1). Which Republican Senators will ultimately support Harry Reid’s debt limit bill, and 2). What changes will have to be made to it between now and midnight to make sure enough of them are on board so the bill doesn’t go down in flames in the wee hours of Sunday morning.
Right now, Democrats are looking to about 11 gettable GOP votes: Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Corker (R-TN), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Scott Brown (R-MA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Tom Coburn (R-OK). The last three were the Republican members of the Gang of Six deficit reduction group.
Right now, the smart money, according to both Republican and Democratic aides, is on finding a trigger — or more accurately a penalty — to build into Harry Reid’s plan to assure it leads to more deficit reduction in the future.
As currently devised, Reid’s creates an ad hoc Congressional Committee tasked with authoring legislation to reduce the deficit by trillions of dollars — likely through a combination of entitlement and tax reforms. It also raises the debt limit by over $2 trillion. Republicans won’t accept the latter unless there’s some assurance that the committee reports a bill, and Congress passes the bill. More accurately, they won’t accept it unless future entitlement cuts are guaranteed to happen.
Hence the penalty. Under this scenario, the Reid plan would be amended to say that if by a certain date, an entitlement and tax reform package was not signed into law, something will happen. What that something is is still unclear, but members have batted around about a half dozen ideas, including enacting the Gang of Six plan, or President Obama’s fiscal commission plan, or across the board spending cuts, or the rolling back of the health care law. The list goes on. The point is to prompt new spending cut legislation.
In either case, President Obama would not be allowed to raise the debt limit until one of those two things — the enactment of an entitlement and tax reform bill, or the penalty — actually happens.
They don’t have long to figure out which way to go.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.