Political Animal


July 18, 2011 8:35 AM Getting to know the ‘Cut, Cap, and Balance Act’

By Steve Benen

Starting tomorrow, the House will turn its attention to something called the “Cut, Cap, and Balance Act,” the House Republicans’ solution to the debt-ceiling standoff. Given the fact the plan has become the centerpiece of the GOP policy agenda, it’s worth taking a moment to consider what’s in it — and what its contents tell us about the extremism of the Republican Party.

To call this plan “extreme” is almost a comical understatement. Remember the radicalism of Paul Ryan’s budget plan? “Cut, Cap, and Balance” makes Ryan’s plan look centrist by comparison.

This approach would cap all federal spending at 18% of GDP, and would slash more than $110 billion from the budget this year, a priority that appears designed to make unemployment much worse almost immediately. “Cut, Cap, and Balance” also, of course, includes a constitutional amendment to prohibit deficits, and would make it almost impossible for any Congress to ever raise taxes on anyone ever again.

The Pentagon budget would be untouched, and the budget wouldn’t bring in so much as a penny in new revenue

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Bob Greenstein explained:

The “Cut, Cap, and Balance Act” that the House of Representatives will vote on [this] week stands out as one of the most ideologically extreme pieces of major budget legislation to come before Congress in years, if not decades. It would go a long way toward enshrining Grover Norquist’s version of America into law. It is so extreme that even the budget plan of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan would not fully satisfy its requirements — the Ryan plan’s budget cuts wouldn’t be severe enough.

The bill also would threaten the U.S. government with default and would likely cause the loss of roughly 700,000 jobs in the year ahead. In addition, the bill would target programs for the poor for cuts, while protecting tax breaks for the wealthy and powerful.

The plan is a caricature of Republican priorities — it’s something liberals might come up with as an exaggeration to make the GOP look ridiculous — and yet, it’s all too real. In a practical sense, its passage would guarantee the dismantling of the federal government.

But its passage is impossible. The Democratic Senate and Democratic White House oppose the entire package, and there’s no way to get a two-thirds majority for a preposterous constitutional amendment in both chambers.

And yet, the truly ridiculous plan will dominate Capitol Hill this week. The House will take it up tomorrow, and the Senate will go through the motions of bringing it to the floor for a vote this week, too.

If you’re wondering why Congress would waste valuable time on an insane “Cut, Cap, and Balance” proposal when there’s only two weeks until the nation exhausts its ability to pay America’s bills, the answer isn’t entirely satisfying: Republicans insist upon it. They demand that they get this out of their system — right now — before actual solutions can be considered.

To be sure, GOP officials know “Cut, Cap, and Balance” will fail. They’re demanding votes in both chambers anyway, basically because the votes will make them feel better about themselves.

“The Republicans are insisting this debate take place before anything happens,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said yesterday. “We have to check the boxes.”

Oddly enough, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was surprisingly candid about this point late last week, explaining that his chamber will take up “Cut, Cap, and Balance,” it will fail, and then lawmakers could move on to more viable alternatives. “Let’s get through that vote and then we’ll make decisions about what will come after,” he said.

It’s tempting to think adults who serve in Congress wouldn’t feel the need to vote on radical symbolism with the economy on the line. The importance of Republicans’ emotional sensibilities just doesn’t seem worth all this nonsense. But that assumes the House Republican caucus still has a few grown-ups. It doesn’t.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • MR on July 18, 2011 8:46 AM:

    Boehner is like a 4 year old child having to follow a bunch of screaming newborns.

  • c u n d gulag on July 18, 2011 8:53 AM:

    My understanding is that after the iceberg hit, the band played on, and people danced - probably so that they could feel better about themselves.

    Listen, if ERA couldn't get made into law, what earthly chance do they think a some form of balanced budget amendment will?

    Oh, wait, they'll name it "The USA is just like you and your family, and we need to balance our budget same as you do, but Obama and the Democrats want to spend, spend, spend" Act, and everyone with an IQ under 3 digits will vote for it.

    Don't ever underestimate the number of people out there with below 3-digit IQ's.
    How do you think Republicans keep winning all the time?

  • jomo on July 18, 2011 9:05 AM:

    It's crazy - but it's probably a sign that we are approaching the endgame. The GOP rank and file need cover for a vote that may raise revenues. Boehner said it best. It will fail - let's do it anyway

  • berttheclock on July 18, 2011 9:05 AM:

    but, but, but, cundgulag, had the ERA made it into law, you would see a nation of Uni-Sex restrooms. That was the argument used by Phyllis Schaffly to scare women. Well, her ilk stopped it and, VOILA, Uni-sex restrooms are everywhere.

    But, isn't Cut, Cap and Balance, the work of Sen. Mike Lee (RePugnant-Utah)? Lee is the product of having clerked twice for Samuel Alito, once, after he became a Gang of Five Supreme Jurist. They are part and parcel of One Nation Under God and Corporations Federalist crowd.

  • Mr. Serf Man on July 18, 2011 9:06 AM:

    It Should be known as the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” (until we get the N***R out of the Whitehouse plan)
    Republicans: Fiscally responsible as long as Democrats are in charge.
    When they're in power - Not so much

  • FRP on July 18, 2011 9:08 AM:

    I would only add that it is like Boehner at four years old , running a day care for infants with the two year old complex during their terrible noes year .
    If you needed sticks and stones why did you come to "Toys are Us" ?

  • Celui on July 18, 2011 9:13 AM:

    My level of exasperation has just been breached: How in the world do people who who are charged with dealing with compound, complex, difficult issues think that such inane, simplistic "Just say No" responses are viable answers? Well, because they're not really interested in dealing with the compound, complex, difficult issues. They're committed to one thing: make Obama a one-term President. That 'splains all this duplicitous nonsense that keeps coming up in DC. To them, it's a game; They see that they can sell this pablum by constantly repeating the same lies in front of the TV cameras; they think they hold all the cards; they don't see the other players out there beyond their own losing hands, and they all think everybody's bluffing. BS. Simple BS--at OUR expense. Rove, Norquist et al: for what does this country exist? I'd wait for an answer, but I already know it.

  • Josef K on July 18, 2011 9:14 AM:

    And yet, the truly ridiculous plan will dominate Capitol Hill this week.

    Nonsense like this measure, once passed, are the sort of things that (ultimately) touch off very violent revolutions.

    I'm unsurprised the GOP is going through this silliness, given their sense of self-preservation appears to be as stunted as their intellectual rigor. Gods help us all if and when a real crisis hits.

  • FRP on July 18, 2011 9:16 AM:

    Infantile seems to be the shoe size that fits , and by gumm their gonna wear it out before they admit the shoe is a bit on the floppy side .

  • delNorte on July 18, 2011 9:16 AM:

    Here's the rhetoric / logic being used to support "Cut, Cap, and Balance," courtesy of Justin Amish's dontraisethedebtlimit.com :

    "The President needs Congress to approve MORE DEBT to fund his big-government spending plans...MORE DEBT MEANS MORE TAXES. We need to slash government spending NOW and return your money to you.

    I [Justin Amash] have pledged to vote AGAINST raising the debt limit unless major reforms, like a balanced budget amendment or repeal of Obamacare, are included in the legislation.

    The Washington establishment is against us on this. They are spreading the lie that we need to BORROW more to keep paying our interest. Have you ever heard something so crazy?

    Instead of slashing spending to free up money, they want to BORROW MORE to pay back what they owe. That's how an addict talks - a SPENDING ADDICT.

    Tell Congress that you don't want to borrow any more. We need REAL budget cuts and we need them NOW. WE DON'T NEED MORE DEBT."

  • GC on July 18, 2011 9:20 AM:

    Can't the Dems filibuster it in the Senate, and move on to other things? That always seems to kill off Dem bills when it's the GOP doing the filibustering.

  • Grumpy on July 18, 2011 9:26 AM:

    “Let’s get through that vote and then we’ll make decisions about what will come after,” he said.

    Meh. Whatever. Maybe they should've been doing this all along -- bring up every idea for a vote, like an auction, and see what sticks.

  • Anonymous on July 18, 2011 9:29 AM:

    Roots of the Republican Anti-Government Reflex and the Debt Ceiling Crisis

    Republican Apocalypse Now

    To understand the extremism coming from the right, the fact that there are members of Congress who seem to be genuinely mentally unhinged leading the charge on the debt ceiling, you need to understand that this hatred of all things government has theological roots that have nothing to do with facts.

    Theology is -- by nature -- not about reason but about faith. If God's will is to be served then so be it if America is plunged into chaos! This debt ceiling fiasco is just another chapter in the "culture" wars.

    The extreme language of Evangelical/"pro-life" rebellion has now been repackaged in the debt ceiling showdown. It is the language of religion pitted against facts.

    And the anti-government charge is being led by people who are either true believers, thus unable to reason, or people catering to the true believers so that they can remain in the good books of the Tea Party, which is nothing more than the Evangelical far right repackaged and renamed.


  • steve duncan on July 18, 2011 9:59 AM:

    It's always hilarious to listen to politicians claim the government should take its cue from the financial strategy employed by an average family. Sitting around the dining table, deciding whether there is enough to cover all their expenses without borrowing or going into long term debt to accomplish the goal. Oh wait! Americans do borrow and go into long term debt to cover expenses.
    From the proposed Republican Balanced Budget Amendment:

    SECTION1. Total outlays for any fiscal year shall not exceed total receipts for that fiscal year.....
    I wonder, if a family operated under similar rules would that mean if you wanted to buy a $300,000 home you'd have to pay for it in the same year you bought it? Or a $25,000 car? The real estate and automotive sector would go further in the tank than even today's depths, wouldn't they? I wait for a journalist to put such a question before a politician when that "dining table" framing pours from their pie hole but it never happens. Why is that?

  • Eric on July 18, 2011 10:05 AM:

    The Dems need to be more aggressive and start calling this the "War Outlaw Bill", or some such. If this ever passed, the US would not be able to engage in another war, ever. Wars cause a nation to run a deficit, which would not be possible. The Dems need to hammer home the message that this stupid bill/amendment would have kept us out of WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan . . . The Dems need to ask why the Republicans want to pass a law that would make it impossible for us to ever rattle our sabres again.

  • kuck3putt on July 18, 2011 10:10 AM:

    I realize that this is a ridiculous exercise, but even if a balanced budget amendment were to emerge from congress, it would require three-fifths of the states to also pass the provision. Why would states, who must rely on the federal government for assistance during business cycle downturns, vote to turn off the spigot? I would expect that even Republican governors are practical enough to recognize this.

  • ManOutOfTime on July 18, 2011 10:21 AM:

    Remember all those times Democrats were in the minority and they were able to derail the business of the Congress by forcing votes on symbolic bills with no hope of passing just so they could use the Republicans' "no" votes against them in the next election?

    Yeah ... me, neither.

  • JM917 on July 18, 2011 10:26 AM:

    Who's to say that Congress is going to get this "debate" and voting over a doomed Balanced Budget Amendment out of the way quickly, so it can get on with cutting some kind of stop-gap McConnellized rise in the debt ceiling?

    Have Jim DeMint, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and other far-right GOP senators promised not to filibuster for days on end in favor of this idiotic amendment until markets start to crash and the witching hour is upon us? Unless someone in the Senate can shut them up, they could very well block any consideration of raising the debt ceiling.

    Has this little detail been worked out in advance?

  • steve duncan on July 18, 2011 10:33 AM:

    Eric on July 18, 2011 10:05 AM:

    The Dems need to be more aggressive and start calling this the "War Outlaw Bill", or some such. If this ever passed, the US would not be able to engage in another war, ever.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Um, no......

    ‘‘SECTION6. The Congress may waive the provisions of sections 1, 2, 3, and 5 of this article for any fiscal year in which a declaration of war against a nation-state is in effect and in which a majority of the duly chosen and sworn Members of each House of Congress shall provide for a specific excess by a roll call vote.

    ‘‘SECTION7. The Congress may waive the provisions of sections 1, 2, 3, and 5 of this article in any fiscal year in which the United States is engaged in a military conflict that causes an imminent and serious military threat to national security and is so declared by three-fifths of the duly chosen and sworn Members of each House of Congress by a roll call vote. Such suspension must identify and be limited to the specific excess of outlays for that fiscal year made necessary by the identified military conflict.

  • sparrow on July 18, 2011 11:07 AM:

    Republicans and their vaudville act.

  • Stephen Stralka on July 18, 2011 12:57 PM:

    I can't help comparing this sort of thing to the Republicans' insistence that a relatively straightforward thing like repealing DADT requires an infinite number of hearings, studies, and review.

    Even after the subject was exhaustively reviewed form every conceivable angle, they were saying it hadn't been studied thoroughly enough, and yet they're going to ram through a bill to basically gut the federal government in just a week? I know they know it isn't going anywhere, but their selective interest in legislative analysis is striking.

  • Eric on July 18, 2011 2:08 PM:

    Steve Duncan, Thank you for pointing out Section 6 and Section 7, but I don't believe that they solve things by themselves. That language is squishy enough for one party to claim that "These Sections don't apply because there is no declaration of war and this is not a military conflict that causes an imminent and serious threat to our national security". Think of the situation with Libya. Republicans could have kept us from being involved by claiming that the Libya situation does not meet the requirements of Sections 6 & 7.

  • labman57 on July 19, 2011 2:14 AM:

    The GOP's latest pledge: "Castrate, Crap on, and Bone the Middle Class"

  • Lucius on July 19, 2011 10:58 AM:

    We all knew what Obama had brought to the table (SS, Medicare, etc), but I'd been wondering what the GOP was bringing besides no to taxing the rich. Now we know. "Cut" entitlements, "Cap" discretionary spending, and (the long held fantasy) "balance" the budget. We also now know, thanks to this article, that they are bat-shit crazy.

    One has to wonder, though, why the $1.2 Trillion spent every year on defense/security is untouchable?

    This bill may pass the crazy House, but not the Senate. However, what if the GOP takes the Senate in 2012? Then the crazy may become law. Then what?