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Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Bad Deal

by digby

"Conservatives are saying it's imperfect, to which one must say, the Sistine Chapel is probably in some sense imperfect." George Will

So you've probably heard about the Big Deal that's (surprise!) congealing today, at the very last minute. Plouffe and McConnell and the rest are all over TV this morning talking about it. I'm a little surprised at how shocked people seem to be. I'ts about what I expected: trillions in cuts, no revenue, a Super Commission with a mandate to cut even more and an up or down vote requirement, and a trigger with mandated cuts if that Commission vote fails.It's pretty much a combination of the worst aspects of all the Republican plans that have been floated.

This is all they still have to fight over:

As noted here, the issue under contention was the design of a so-called "trigger," -- a penalty written into the bill meant to encourage Congress to pass further bipartisan deficit reduction legislation, authored by a new Special Committee, later this year. Here's what they've reportedly come up with, pending approval from Congressional Democrats and Republicans.

From ABC News, the key detail: "The special committee must make recommendations by late November (before Congress' Thanksgiving recess). If Congress does not approve those cuts by December 23, automatic across-the-board cuts go into effect, including cuts to Defense and Medicare. This 'trigger' is designed to force action on the deficit reduction committee's recommendations by making the alternative painful to both Democrats and Republicans."

The Medicare cuts would supposedly fall on Medicare providers, not beneficiaries. The trigger would also include a vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment -- but no requirement that it be sent off to the states.

So Medicare is definitely on the chopping block. (Medicaid too -- that will be part of the other trillions in discretionary spending.)

But this part is just funny:

on CNN, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the final trigger must include incentives that don't simply allow Republicans to draw a line in the sand over revenues. "What is the sword over the Republican?" Schumer asked.

Well it has to be equal -- the one thing we are certain of, it has to be of equal sharpness and strength. The preference would be some kind of revenues, on wealthy people, on tax loopholes that would be in that. But another alternative, possible, being discussed, no agreement has been reached, would be defense cuts of equal sharpness and magnitude to domestic cuts.

In the past, when the trigger has had significant defense cuts, it's brought the parties to the table and they've come up with a balanced agreement that had both revenues and cuts.

Perhaps he's right and some mandated defense cuts will be what finally brings the Tea Party around. Sure.

Unfortunately, the trigger means there will be "entitlement cuts" in the next round:

Under the new proposal, if the new legislative body composed of 12 members of both parties doesn't come up with a bill that cuts at least $1.8 trillion by Thanksgiving, entitlement programs will automatically be slashed.

The Super Congress will be made up of six Democrats and six Republicans from both chambers. Under the reported framework, legislation the new congressional committee writes would be fast-tracked through the regular Congress and could not be filibustered or amended.

The parties are negotiating the outlines of the super panel's mandate, deciding roughly how much in cuts must come from defense spending, how much from seniors, how much from veterans, etc.

Last weekend, HuffPost reported on the extraordinary powers being delegated to the emerging Super Congress, but beltway media largely reacted by dismissing it as just another Washington commission. On Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sought to disabuse anyone listening of that notion.

"Let me emphasize the joint committee," McConnell said on CNN's State of the Union. "In the early stages of this discussion, the press was talking about another commission. This is not a commission. This is a powerful, joint committee with a equal number of Republicans and Senate -- equal number of Republicans and Democrats, and, to make a recommendation back to the Senate and House by Thanksgiving of this year for an up or down vote. Think of the base closing legislation that we passed a few years ago for an up or down vote in the Senate."

The sticking point, said McConnell, is that Republicans are insisting on "triggers" that would automatically fire at beneficiaries of Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare if the Super Congress doesn't act. "The trigger issue has been the one locked us in the extensive discussions. I thought we were very close to an agreement a week ago today, and then went off to our separate corners and had volleys, and now we are back into the position where we will let you know when we agree to something," said McConnell.

Republicans rejected tax increases as a trigger incentive, and the White House has responded by proposing automatic defense cuts -- which should have the consequence of enlisting defense lobbyists to push for entitlement cuts to stave off their own reductions.

For me this isn't a shocking disappointment. I have felt that this whole process was a disaster from the beginning and it really doesn't matter to me if the Democrats eke out a couple of concessions about defense cuts or close a few loopholes "in return" for these cuts. That isn't "shared sacrifice," it's asking the poorest, oldest and sickest among us to give up a piece of their meager security in exchange for the wealthy giving up some tip money and the defense industry giving up a couple of points of profit. It's stripping the nation of necessary educational, safety and environmental protections while the wealthy greedily absorb more and more of the nation's wealth and the corporations and financial industry gamble with the rest.

The idea that they are even talking about this at a time of nearly 10% official unemployment with the economy looking like it's going back into recession (if it ever left) makes this debate surreal and bizarre. To cut the safety net and shred discretionary spending in massive numbers at a time like this is mind boggling. That it's happening under a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate is profoundly depressing.

But it's happening. And sadly, I still think it will be mostly Democrats who end up voting for it.

And by the way, David Plouffe and The President really, really need to stop saying that progressives should want to do this bullshit. It's insulting ... and blindingly infuriating.

Update: Ezra's funny this morning:

Next year’s deadline offers Democrats their only chance to negotiate from a superior strategic position. Republicans will still be able to refuse to raise taxes. But if they do, it won’t matter. The only way they can succeed in keeping taxes from rising is if the Obama administration and the Democrats stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them to extend the Bush tax cuts.

Lol. Like that could ever happen.