Speaking with reporters after Sunday’s failed debt limit vote, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) criticized President Obama for not seizing the initiative and forcing a balanced plan for deficit reduction. He also explained the problems with and merits of a still-forming bipartisan plan that will raise the debt limit.
The key for now, as explained here, is that it avoids default in a way that assures deep spending cuts over the coming decades — including to entitlement programs — but provides no guarantees of higher tax revenues.
Specifically the plan calls for a new congressional committee to make and expedite tax and entitlement reform recommendations before the end of the year. If the reforms fail, early leaks suggest that would trigger across the board spending cuts — including to defense and entitlements — but no new tax revenue.
TPM asked Levin whether such an enforcement mechanism is threatening enough to force Republicans to deal fairly in future fiscal negotiations. “That’s the issue, is to whether or not that sequestration mechanism will be so strong in the area of defense, for instance, or in the area of [Medicare] providers, because it would apply to the providers of health care in Medicare,” Levin said.
It will not, we are told, apply to beneficiaries. And if it does apply to beneficiaries, if those cuts that would be the result of sequestration, if that applies to beneficiaries, I think the President will lose almost every Democrat….
The hope is sequestration will be avoided. Sequestration is not your goal, Sequestration is the goal which hopefully produce a decent outcome from a joint committee. Whether it will have that effect really will be determined by who’s on that committee, and whether or not the members of the joint committee who are selected will reflect the views of the caucus. If they reflect the views of the Democratic caucus they will insist on revenue being included.
Revenues, in other words, won’t be forbidden by the deal, but will be an uphill climb. Some Democrats think they have added leverage because if Republicans pull such a trigger, it will provide them with a helpful message going into the next election: Republicans were so unwilling to end egregious tax loopholes and breaks for millionaires, that they triggered devastating cuts to domestic and defense programs. Levin doesn’t really buy it.
“That gives a political argument,” he said, “but in the meantime there’s a hell of a lot of damage done to average people in this country. I don’t know of too many people, I hope, that are willing to have a political advantage at the price, at the expense, of people we represent. I hope not.”
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.