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Hullabaloo


Sunday, July 31, 2011

 
Trigger Happy
by David Atkins ("thereisnospoon")

As the default deadline approaches in two short days, the scrambling in Washington continues. The deal reportedly on the table involves $900 billion in cuts, followed by a Super Committee tasked with figuring out $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction--probably through a mix of mostly cuts but some revenues, at the discretion of the Super Committee.

That general outline seems to be the basis of every plan under discussion. The key negotiating point right now seems to be the so-called "trigger": namely, what happens if the Super Committee doesn't come to an agreement on the $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, and/or Congress refuses to pass the Super Committee's recommendations. The "trigger" is designed to be very painful to both sides should they not agree to the Super Committee's suggestions. And what is that trigger as it stands now?

If the committee fails to reach $1.2 trillion, it will trigger an automatic across the board spending cut, half from domestic spending, half from defense spending, of $1.5 trillion. The domestic cuts come from Medicare providers, but Medicaid and Social Security would be exempted. The enforcement mechanism carves out programs that help the poor and veterans as well.


Basically, the trigger is designed to have Democrats wail about Medicare cuts, and Republicans wail about defense cuts. As anyone with an ounce of sense knows, however, Republicans will insist on taking more hostages when it comes time to approve the Super Committee's recommendations, and they will be just as intransigent against any revenue increases in the Super Committee's recommendations as they were to the revenue increases in the current fight. That is why Boehner is actively trying to scuttle the defense cuts in the trigger currently on the table.

But keep in mind that the Tea Party types that have given Boehner such headaches aren't actually all that scared of defense cuts. Many of them believe in cutting all government spending, military spending not excepted. These people hate every government program FDR used to pull us out of the Great Depression, including the massive government spending jobs program that was World War II. Which means that a great portion of Bachmann's House and Demint's Senate will happily take Pentagon spending hostage as a way to extract even more tax and spending cuts.

That is why John Kerry said yesterday that revenue increases must be part of the trigger, since taxes are the only thing that scare Republicans enough to actually let a hostage live:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) isn't saying why both sides aren't any closer to a debt deal after a day filled with feverish negotiations Saturday, but Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) spelled it out during a floor speech Saturday night. ...

"You do not just cut, you also have to have the possibility of revenue," he said. "Because if you do not have the possibility of revenue, then the side that only wants to cut can wait for nothing to happen and the cuts take place automatically. There is no threat to them. There is no leverage for them to come to agreement on the other things."

So far, the "or else" has focused on a trigger that would slash spending across the board -- including for entitlement programs like Medicare, a near-sacred program for Democrats, as well as to defense spending, which Republicans historically have sought to protect. One of the models for the so-called trigger goes back to the Reagan era when, in 1984, Congress passed the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act in 1984, which included a trigger imposing draconian across-the-board spending cuts unless hard-and-fast deficit reduction goals were met.

Back then, during the Cold War anti-communist fervor, Republicans were dead-set against cuts to defense spending so the threat of an across-the-board cut that included slashing defense spending was the equivalent of "shared pain." Fast forward to 2011, however, and that threat no longer packs the same punch. Tea Party conservatives are eager to draw down U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and don't believe that nation-building is helping efforts to combat al-Qaeda or international terrorism.

So Democrats want to ensure real leverage and are demanding that any so-called trigger include revenue raisers.

Within the confines of the already preposterous "deal" in which accepting the deficit recommendations of an unaccountable Gang-of-Six-style Super Committee is the "best" possible outcome, John Kerry is right. Revenues are an essential part of the whatever trigger is put in place.

But today's reports indicate that whatever backbone Kerry was suggesting Democrats might have, appears to have disappeared. None of the reports mentions anything about revenues as part of the trigger--which is fairly obvious since Boehner appears to believe he can get away with scrapping even the Pentagon cuts.

Or maybe not. Nancy Pelosi is suggesting the current deal may not pass the House:

"We all may not be able to support it," she said. "And maybe none of us will be able to support it."

Liberals in her caucus are set to revolt. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), a leader among House progressives, blasted the deal in an official statement earlier Sunday.

""This deal trades peoples' livelihoods for the votes of a few unappeasable right-wing radicals, and I will not support it," he said.

And the details may become even less palatable for Democrats, as Republicans grit their teeth over potential defense spending cuts in the bill.

But no word on whether the lack of revenue provisions in the trigger have anything to do with House Democrats' revolt. Hopefully they do. Within the context of a horrible, no-good bill, insisting on such revenue as part of the trigger might be the best salvage Democrats can hope for at the moment. If Dems do stand up for this, the only question then becomes whether Wall St. will force enough of the GOP to the table, or whether we go forward with the 14th Amendment route.

In all likelihood, though, we'll get neither. The current "deal" already constitutes a series of Democratic caves to GOP hostage-taking, and the details of the trigger will probably be no exception.

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