Search This Blog

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Boehner Grounds into a Double Play

The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the US Government can not pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.' Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.” — Senator Barack H. Obama, March 2006

Late yesterday afternoon, the CBO reaffirmed all of the concerns of the Tea Party’s concerns with Speaker Boehner’s Budget Control Act of 2011 — plus interest (pun intended). A report from The Hill states:

“The CBO informed Boehner on Tuesday that his debt-ceiling fallback plan would reduce the deficit by about $850 billion over 10 years.

House GOP rank-and-file members had been waiting eagerly for the score, as they were worried the bill would not measure up to claims made by House leadership.

Leadership on Monday said the bill would reduce discretionary spending by $1.2 trillion over 10 years in return for a $900 billion increase in the debt limit.”

Conservatives have asserted ad nauseam that any proposed budget plan that fails to countermand the current prodigal spending levels, including the modestly reduced spending levels of 2011, is not worth the paper it is printed on. The CBO estimates that Boehner’s $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending cuts will only save us $850 billion over ten years. This means that Obama’s credit card increase will be higher than the concurrent spending cuts, thus voiding the promise of the dollar-for-dollar agreement. Moreover, the CBO estimates that all the cuts will be back loaded, as the estimated savings for next year — the only enforceable year — will be a negligible $1 billion! It turns out that an extra $4 billion in mandatory spending for Pell Grants will ostensibly wipe out any savings from the paltry discretionary cuts.

This plan is worse than a strikeout; it’s a ground ball into a double play.

A mere lousy plan would have destroyed our leverage over the debt ceiling fight; Boehner’s plan obviates our future leverage over the FY 2012 budget fight in late September as well. The House-passed budget resolution, known as the Paul Ryan budget, authorized $1.019 trillion in non-emergency discretionary spending for FY 2012. Boehner’s bill authorizes $1.043 trillion.

Additionally, all the reforms in entitlement and welfare spending that were adopted in the Ryan budget (including reforms of Pell Grants) will be jettisoned and exchanged for a grand bargain formulated by the Super Commission. Yes, I know, it’s a committee; not a commission.

Consequently, when the 2012 budget fight boils over after the summer recess, we will lose our leverage to fight for the Ryan budget. So, all the hard work that has gone into passing the appropriations bills and fulfilling the mandate from the budget resolution would have been a waste. The Boehner plan has already overshot the spending levels of those bills. Democrats will laugh at them during those pretentious days at the end of the fiscal year.

Concurrently, there is another unforeseen vice to this plan. The two largest non-defense appropriations bills; the Labor/HHS/Education and Transportation/HUD bills, are being saved until after August. The Ryan budget blueprint achieved the most savings from these bills; $26 billion of the estimated $47 trillion in discretionary savings for 2012. Boehner’s plan, or any 2.0 version of it, would allow liberal Republican appropriators to reinstate some of the spending to the most pernicious activities of some of the worst government agencies. Congressman Steve LaTourette, a shill for Big Labor, is already agog over the opportunity to spend more on Labor.

John Boehner, to his credit, is planning to rewrite his bill. He needs to go for a home run and stick with Cut, Cap, and Balance. At the very least, we don’t need another double play.

I hate to accuse a president of lying, but President Obama is selling a massive fraud to the American people by warning of a catastrophe if the debt limit is not increased. There will be no catastrophe unless the president goes out of his way to will it and create it.

Federal spending averages about $300 billion per month. Federal tax collections run to about $180 billion. Our vital obligations are a lot less than that: Federal debt service is about $25 billion per month. Social Security is about $58 billion per month. The entire defense budget also is about $58 billion per month. Tax revenues are more than sufficient to fund each of these items if the president chooses to allocate federal tax money to this purpose.

Confronted by a congressional refusal to raise the debt limit, the president will have a choice as to where to allocate the tax revenues that will continueaaa1_145 to flow in. If he wishes to cause a catastrophic crisis by deliberately routing the money to purposes other than debt service, he can do so. If he wants to trigger a massive political crisis by withholding tax revenues from Social Security or military pay, he can do that, too. But these decisions are his to make. He could do the responsible thing and make sure these vital expenses are paid and withhold money from the run-of-the-mill federal bureaucracy, closing or restricting the activities of the departments of Labor, Agriculture, HUD, State, Justice, Commerce and the various boards and commissions. American can do very well without an FCC or an FTC or an NLRB for a few days or weeks.

The real political threat to Obama is that the debt limit is not increased and few people notice any change in their lives and nobody much cares. So some will have to wait a few more weeks for passports. So what?

The president is likening the government shutdown that would follow failure to raise the debt limit to that which took place in 1995-96. But in those years, there was a prohibition against spending money Congress had not yet appropriated. Now it's perfectly legal to spend any money that comes into the Treasury; there just won't be as much of it, because the debt limit will preclude further borrowing. The president still can fund any 60 percent of the government he wants (the proportion that comes from tax revenues).

In his speech to the nation Monday night, Obama used tricky words to camouflage these obvious facts. He no longer spoke of defaulting on money we owe, but instead used the more vague phrase "defaulting on our obligations." By that he means our obligations to the bureaucrats, not to our creditors.

Since when are we obliged to fund the bureaucracy? The Congress voted the money, but if it rescinds the borrowing authority, the money won't be there and it won't be spent.

Obama's entire strategy is to conceal his real goal: protecting every last desk in the bureaucracy behind a facade of threatening to close the most popular and fiscally necessary programs. He's like a local mayor who knows that nobody is going to get hot and bothered if the commercial licensing bureau gets closed for a few days, so he warns that teachers and police will have to be laid off if there are budget cuts.

The House and Senate are close to a deal. They both agree to raise the debt limit without tax hikes. The Senate wants it raised by two years, the House for one. The Senate is pushing to include accounting gimmicks like ending the wars as a savings; the House is resisting. But these all are bridgeable gaps. None of these differences are causes for a breakdown. The only player who is holding out for tax hikes is the president, who has staked out a position to the left of his senators. It's time for him to come in from the cold.

If GOP leaders are serious, they will fight for a deal that upholds the integrity of the Ryan budget, both on the discretionary and mandatory sides of the ledger.

Consider that John Boehner and Harry Reid named their different legislation to raise the debt ceiling by the identical name.

Consider also that John Boehner and Harry Reid’s legislation are virtually mirror images to each other — a fact that the rhetoric has obscured, but is in reality accurate.

Consider, in fact, that Boehner and Reid use the same language in various portions of their legislation.

Consider that John Boehner told Sean Hannity tax hikes could come out of his deficit commission despite earlier denials.

Consider also that in one of the key differing portions, John Boehner uses Mitch McConnell’s gimmick of letting the President raise the debt ceiling on his own with merely a congressional vote of “disapproval” that the President can then veto. This is a gimmick embraced by Harry Reid.

Consider that John Boehner claimed actual cuts to the federal budget for 2012 would be just over $6 billion — that is for an entire year. The federal government spends $10 billion a day.

Consider that the Congressional Budget Office determined late last evening that the actual amount of cuts for 2012 would only be $1 billion for the whole year, or about 2.5 hours of federal government spending.

And then consider that the White House, after the Congressional Budget Office’s determination, defended John Boehner on the White House website even after White House officials said they would recommend the President veto Boehner’s plan — actually a different statement from the past. In the past, the White House said definitively that the President would veto the GOP’s idea. Now, they are just saying it’ll be recommended to the President.

Consider all these things and it seems the White House and Harry Reid are perfectly willing to let John Boehner pass his plan if he can get it out of the House. Their very hostility is designed to reassure Republicans. They’ll sign it into law. Then they will blame the GOP when our credit rating is downgraded — something sure to happen with John Boehner’s plan.

Finally, consider this — we are all being played. The conservatives are up front with what they want. The House, Senate, and White House seem to be working at cross purposes, but hiding some of their cards. The only group up front with what it wants — real spending cuts — is the Tea Party movement being portrayed even by the Wall Street Journal as fringe.

I’m left with the only inescapable conclusion one can derive from all of this. Republicans are being played for fools, will wind up with all of the blame and very few cuts and the size and scope of the federal government will continue to grow all thanks to John Boehner who is on his third plan continuing to compromise not with the Democrats, but with the Republicans.

I like the idea of a smaller increase in the debt ceiling to give time and a sense of urgency to work out some very difficult problems that can’t be solved in the short term.

I like the idea of this debate taking place again during the course of the 2012 election campaign as a way to put our candidates at all levels on the record in favor of fiscal sanity.

I like the idea of statutory caps on spending though, having lived through the era of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act and the Concord Coalition, I’m not terribly confident about any statutory measure that doesn’t involve federal marshals and congressmen spending time in jail for failure to comply. Just remember, there is statutory requirement that the Senate pass an annual budget, which they haven’t done in almost 500 days.

What is unthinkable, in my view, is this bastardized “joint committee.”

As they say, the devil is in the details. I’ll freely admit that I don’t know the details of how this committee would operate but, on the other hand, the people who want us to support the plan haven’t seen fit to share those details either. This makes it, to use the metaphor I grew up with, a pig in a poke.

On its face the idea looks enticing. To get any substantive reform of Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security through the Senate requires finding a way to 1) ensure the bill is actually voted on and 2) prevent the lefty Dems who dominate that body from using a filibuster or attaching contradictory amendments. In the final analysis, this is the kind of operation that will have to take place, something along the lines of the Base Realignment and Closing Commissions (BRAC) that will prevent a minority of senators from driving us into the fiscal ditch.

The main problem with this is that conservatives will only have a maximum of three votes on the committee. There is no way a Jim DeMint, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, or even that arch-conservative Orin Hatch are going to be selected by McConnell to sit on the committee. We’ll have three squishy, go-along-get-along “RINO “statesmen” who will do what they are told by Schumer, Durbin, and Reid. From the outset, conservatives lose this battle.

I would like to remind all of you liberals with a memory as long as a flea that you icon of liberalism, John Kennedy, realized that taxes were a drain on our economy and created job Loss. He was also a leader, unlike Obama, who was willing to introduce his plan for moving he economy forward and bring it to the American people.

The second problem is that we don’t know what the “joint committee” will look at. We know from the outset that at least six of the twelve members will consider any reductions in taxes as a “tax expenditure” and will demand that tax rates be up for negotiation. I’d feel better if there was more exactness in describing what the joint committee would cut.

The third problem is, and it may result in a poor choice of words by the various sources, that there is no requirement that the president sign anything to get the $1.5T in additional debt authority. In other words, the joint committee is engaged in little more than mutual onanism.

This makes the deal a non-starter as far as I’m concerned. I’d feel much more comfortable with the Speaker committed to executing the first half of the plan as often as it takes because the man who determines the success or failure of the second part is Obama who has shown he cares about nothing more than his reelection.

No comments:

Post a Comment