Debt limit negotiations continue

Speaker of House the John Boehner, R-OH, backed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-VA (L) and Republican Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, discusses the Republican plan called “Cut, Cap and Balance” to avoid default which would occur if the debt limit ceiling is reached on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on July 19, 2011. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg

Yesterday we saw a flurry of activity and plenty of consternation as the media and politicians tried to figure out what was going on behind closed doors. TPM has a very helpful account of what happened yesterday, and this passage sticks out:

Democrats favored one proposal: if Congress failed to pass tax reform by date-certain, then the top-bracket Bush tax cuts would expire — a hefty stick that would encourage Republicans to cut a deal. Boehner never agreed to that — and now that the grand bargain has been revived, Democrats are worried that Obama has abandoned that trigger, and perhaps his insistence on a trigger of any kind.

Multiple reports surfaced late Thursday that a trade-off might be in the works: Republicans would agree to the tax trigger if Obama and Dems would agree to nix the health care law’s individual mandate — an unpopular, but crucial component of the reforms Obama signed last year. This is precisely the sort of swap House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has argued for recently.

Referring to negotiations with Democrats, Cantor last week told reporters, “Every time the discussion started about, well, Republicans need to raise taxes, I would proffer back, then you put ObamaCare repeal on the table.”

By multiple accounts, Democrats left Thursday’s White House meeting unhappy.

I like this potential deal for many reasons. First, decoupling the Bush tax cuts so that those for the wealthy would expire is a big deal and would be a huge win for Obama and the Democrats. It would be a serious concession from the GOP, and I have no problem with the idea that this happens in the future if it’s locked in. The statement from Grover Norquist yesterday about the Bush tax cuts is a huge tell that the GOP is seriously considering this.

On the individual mandate, this has been the single most unpopular provision of health care reform. If this could be replaced by some kind of annual open enrollment period with penalties for people who don’t buy insurance so they can’t game the system, then this would be acceptable from a policy point of view. It would also be a significant positive from a political point of view, as it would remove the most controversial issue surrounding health care reform and dilute it as a political issue.

The Democrats were quiet last night, which tells me they aren’t out there trying to kill this potential deal, even if they aren’t thrilled about it. I just saw Claire McCaskill just said on MSNBC that she was open to it. Also, as pointed out in the article, Boehner can’t get behind it until the Cut, Cap and Balance bill gets killed in the Senate, so this won’t move in public until after today’s vote.

I will be stunned if a grand bargain actually happens, but if it does it will be a huge victory for President Obama, John Boehner and the country.

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