Political Animal


July 28, 2011 8:35 AM The differences between the Reid, Boehner plans

By Steve Benen

At this point in the process, there are effectively two competing plans to resolve the Republicans’ debt-ceiling crisis: House Speaker John Boehner’s (R) proposal and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D) plan. A third alternative may come together — with five days to go, it would have to come together very quickly — but for now, two options are on the table.

This week, there’s been some worthwhile discussion about whether the differences between the two are really that great. There’s clearly something to this — both plans include massive cuts, both plans include effectively nothing in new revenue, and both would raise the debt ceiling. I heard someone say the other day that, from a progressive perspective, both plans are like going to the dentist to have wisdom-teeth removed — Reid’s plan would yank three of them; Boehner’s would yank four. Both are wildly unpleasant, though one is slightly worse.

There are differences, though, and the details matter.

The most obvious, and the one you’ve no doubt heard the most about, is the duration of the extension. Under Boehner’s approach, Congress would raise the debt ceiling for six months, and then force us to go through the process all over again early next year. All available evidence suggests this would undermine the economy significantly. Under Reid’s plan, the extension would go through the end of next year, putting a lot of minds at ease. Obviously, this matters.

But Jonathan Bernstein goes further, noting that for the left, Reid’s plan is “much, much better” than Boehner’s.

The first difference is the total cuts. Everyone is emphasizing that Reid’s front-line totals are very similar to Boehner’s. But bookkeeping cuts, which analysts are ignoring, buy Reid an extra year of debt-limit extension in exchange for, basically, nothing at all, meaning that Reid slashes government far less than Boehner does. […]

The second set of differences is harder to see from the details that have been reported so far, but they’re about timing and location of the cuts. By all accounts, the revamped Boehner plan is going to be more frontloaded than was his initial offer, because Republicans (to some extent with good reason) don’t trust future Congresses to be bound by decisions made now. Liberals prefer backloaded cuts, partially because they’re less real, but especially because liberals believe that up-front cuts will hurt the economy more while it’s still fragile at best. This is another way that the Reid plan is superior.

Also note the way in which Boehner sets up the second vote in six months. The problem isn’t just the uncertainty that comes with a needless short-term extension; it’s also the fact that under the Speaker’s scenario, policymakers are supposed to spend the next several months in negotiations on how to “reform” the tax code and entitlement programs.

This matters, of course, because if Republicans refuse to accept a compromise, as seems to be their nature, the crisis begins all over again. With no deal, Dems would be told in January, “Accept another $1 trillion in cuts or the GOP will crash the economy.”

In contrast, Reid’s plan would also begin the process on tax/entitlement “reform,” but failing to come up with an agreement wouldn’t undermine the full faith and credit of the United States.

And then there’s the small question of what, exactly, will be cut as part of the larger plans. As Jonathan added, Reid seems focused on military spending, which can afford a few reductions, while Boehner hasn’t offered much in the way of details, which isn’t a good sign.

To be sure, I don’t like Reid’s plan. It’s far too conservative; it concedes too much, and it includes effectively nothing in new revenue, failing to meet the “balanced” test. Under sane circumstances, a Democrat would never propose it, worse yet support it.

But our current circumstances are anything but sane, which is why Reid unveiled this approach, and why the White House and Nancy Pelosi support it. When compared with Boehner’s plan, it’s clearly the smarter way to go.

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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  • Sue Ann Clugage on July 28, 2011 8:43 AM:

    Since members of congress are not doing their jobs, the first checks not to go out will be their salaries, the salaries of their staffs, and all the staff members of all the committees. Then stop paying their health insurance. They want a leaner government? Start with them.

  • xzCxzc on July 28, 2011 8:52 AM:


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  • c u n d gulag on July 28, 2011 8:53 AM:

    What have we come to?

    OK, our legs hurt.
    Boehner's plan wants to cut off both legs, and then both arms, and our heads.
    Reid's plan seems to want to cut off one leg, and maybe a few fingers.

    Why don't we look at the situation, analyze, and try to stimulate the economy by using therapy - in other words, Keynes instead of Milton Friedman? Employing 2-3% of the unemployed would help bring down the deficit and debt in a hurry.

    Oh yeah, the Consevatives don't believe in it.

    This is as if right now, Doctors decided not to do diagnostics and surgery, but instead thought that a more effective way of handling health issues would be to sacrifice a chicken to read its entrails, and then bleed you with leeches, prior to amputation.

    OY VEY!!!

  • DAY on July 28, 2011 8:54 AM:

    I'm not a big fan of the "Reid Plan" either, but politics is the Art of the Doable, and until it is signed into law by the president, everything is 'dueling banjos'.

  • SteveT on July 28, 2011 8:58 AM:

    . . . from a progressive perspective, both plans are like going to the dentist to have wisdom-teeth removed -- Reid's plan would yank three of them; Boehner's would yank four.

    If the wisdom teeth need to come out, for example because they are growing in sideways the way mine where, then that's one thing. But if the wisdom teeth are healthy, then removing them is nothing more than mutilation.

    Maybe the movie clip that should have been shown in the Republican House Caucus was the "dental drill" scene from Marathon Man. I can imagine Allan West standing up and saying "I'll get the drill!"


    *Warning: not for the squeamish*

  • FRP on July 28, 2011 8:59 AM:

    Now now , we don't anyone to think there is a real consequence to grown children playing army with the "toys" they are given , rather than the lives that will be affected , do we ?
    If the good soldiers of the right claim they have killed you just smile and say something pleasing . For those in doubt of the pleasing cant of our twee stained cousins , any old phrase beginning I hate , and few mumbled nouns oughter do her .

  • Ron Byers on July 28, 2011 9:03 AM:

    It doesn't matter what is in either plan. Neither can pass. If the House remains totally divided the Reid plan can't pass the House. If the Senate remains strong, the Boehner plan can't pass the Senate.

    We are completely screwed unless somebody proposes a clean bill Sunday night or the President invokes the 14th Amendment Monday afternoon.

    This entire week is being spent on public displays for the party faithful. Sort of like sacrificing virgins to the volcano instead of getting out of the way.

    This whole thing could go away if Boehner decided he could use Democratic votes to push the Reid plan through the house.

  • walt on July 28, 2011 9:07 AM:

    When the dust settles on this debacle, I hope historians note how a great republic came to be governed by extortionists and zealots. From here on out, nothing is routine. Any pro forma vote can be hijacked for some extremists as the country watches helplessly from the sidelines.

    The Republicans have won. Yes, the Boehner plan will likely lose, but that's merely their last card play. They essentially played Democrats like chumps and got them to fold again and again since that's what "responsible adults" apparently do when confronted by extremists.

    Having validated the rule of thugs, Obama can now look forward to a re-election campaign in which his signature accomplishment will be an unpopular health-care reform act. Republicans will promise to repeal it and they will likely succeed. Political theater bears consequences, which we somehow think will fade away. Well, this isn't fading away. This is just the beginning. And if you think America can endure this breach of civil political conduct, your dream encloses a nightmare.

  • Chris on July 28, 2011 9:09 AM:

    Great post, Steve. I agree completely.

    If we get a debt-ceiling increase, and that's a big if, then we're likely to get a compromise of some sort between these two plans. Of course, McConnell and friends will need to allow the Reid proposal to get a vote, at best, or even perhaps round up some votes for it.

    Fingers crossed.

  • Okie on July 28, 2011 9:13 AM:

    Reid's plan is the "four wisdom teeth plan." Boehner's is the "three teeth plan."

    With Boehner's plan, we have to go back to the dentist in six months to finish the job.

    ornmyste worth

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  • Josef K on July 28, 2011 9:14 AM:

    I am writing this at 9:15am, Eastern time zone. That means there are eight hours and fifteen minutes before Boehner's scheduled vote. I daresay these are going to be the longest eight and a quarter hours I've spent in some days.

  • brent on July 28, 2011 9:24 AM:

    This all seems absurd to me. Assuming that he has the votes of most of the House Democrats, Reid would still need a pretty big chunk of the House Republicans to get this to Obama. Is there any indication he has those votes? Does he even have the entire Democratic caucus? We are spending an awful lot of time bargaining and compromising our position with a bunch of halfwits who have made it clear that they have no intention of supporting anything short of the destruction of the social safety net. What is the point of this farce at this stage?

    Captcha: carnibus, fechin

  • joan on July 28, 2011 9:25 AM:

    Democrats - we should all listen to the words of Joe Walsh and not raise the debt limit, therefore we will not pay the bills!
    According to Chicago Sun Times - Joe Walsh
    $100,000.00 in debt to ex wife for child support. Condo repossessed, lots of bills unpaid, whined that he was out of work and broke but took girl friend to Mexico & Italy. Just don't pay your bills.And this man calls Obama a liar!

  • Mr. Serf Man on July 28, 2011 9:25 AM:

    What Walt says
    We are headed for some grim times .
    The capitulation has opened the door for hostage taking.
    The Republicans will probably take over because Americans are too stupid for democracy.
    Just go to TPM and look at their slide show of the TP rally on Capitol Hill.
    These are the people calling the shots in the hostage drama.
    Weep for your country.

  • ComradeAnon on July 28, 2011 9:25 AM:

    WWRDD? What would a real Democrat do? Not any of this BS.

  • bob h on July 28, 2011 9:29 AM:

    You would like to think that Boehner can see one step ahead and is talking to Reid already about the Reid-Boehner compromise bill, but I doubt that he is that intelligent.

    Doesn't he realize that the American public have had enough of looking at his ugly face?

  • Goldilocks on July 28, 2011 9:37 AM:

    Dire but interesting.

    Congress will transition from paralysis to catatonia.

    America will default.

    House Republicans will scream at Obama to do something.

    Eventually, he will invoke emergency executive powers.

    Slowly he will start paying a few bills.

    Agonizing but nice.

  • SW on July 28, 2011 10:05 AM:

    The smarter way to go is for Obama to exercise some leadership and take it to the courts. Win or lose. Doesn't matter. It breaks the logjam.

  • Danny Gail McElrath on July 28, 2011 10:08 AM:

    But you didn't mention the fact that Reid's plan includes the infamous Super Committee to come up with ideas to reduce the budget deficit (which will be safety net cuts of course) and have it ramrodded through Congress. What good saving the safety net right this minute and setting up a way to do it a little later in a way that Obama and the Democrats think will leave their hands clean? It won't of course, but they think we won't see through that.

  • J. J. Ramsey on July 28, 2011 10:30 AM:

    The funny thing is that the Republicans could have accepted Reid's plan and declared victory, since it concedes so much to them. However, because the Republicans have been so obstinate, just getting something like the Reid plan through ends up looking like a victory for Democrats. Go figure.

  • Doug on July 28, 2011 10:59 PM:

    Danny Gail McElrath @ 10:08 AM.

    First off, Bowles-Simpson, remember THAT committee? The one that gutted SS, changed Medicare and didn't raise taxes at all? The one that prompted all that legislation that was passed? Oh, wait, NOTHING was passed, was it? THAT'S exactly what will happen to ANY Super Committee-proposed "safety net cuts".
    After reading your last two sentences, however, I see that logic won't be of any use in trying to convince you of anything so I'll just stop here.