From the reaction of some conservatives, you’d think Speaker John Boehner had dug up and defiled the body of Ronald Reagan. What exactly did Boehner do to earn such condemnation? His House passed Cut, Cap and Balance, which made modest cuts to spending in 2012, installed caps on spending going forward, required a revisit of the debt limit debate after a few months, and mandated a tough Balanced Budget Amendment. After Senator Reid tabled the bill, refusing to even discuss it, Boehner passed, after much wrangling, a bill that made smaller cuts to 2012, installed less restrictive caps, revisited the debt limit debate after fewer months, and required a BBA without the 2/3s requirement to raise taxes. Compromising with himself? Yes, but hardly abandoning conservative principles.
The simple fact is that Speaker Boehner does not control the Democrats in the Senate. Howling that he has given Reid a vehicle to modify and return to the House for a vote is just silly; that is how legislation is done. Reid has always had the ability to send a bill to the House to vote on; he could have gutted and rewritten CC&B or used a host of other bills as a shell if he had wanted. What is telling is that he did not, just like he failed to produce a 2011 or 2012 budget, just like (despite all the negotiations) he has yet to produce a debt raising bill of his own. The reason why is obvious: the only bill consistent with the liberal principles of the Democratic Party is a “clean” debt limit increase of almost $3 trillion.
Reid may try to dress it up with spending cuts, but they will be all smoke and mirrors. He can break it into two or more tranches, but they must automatically be triggered. He can accept a pro forma vote on a BBA, but not a requirement for passage. And the debt limit increase must total at least $2.7 trillion, because since there are no real cuts to spending (in fact, they hope to spread around some more money in advance of the 2012 elections) and tax revenues are so iffy in this economy they have to make sure the well doesn’t run dry a month or two before November. What that means is a bill so shameful that it requires cover from the Republicans to even put down on paper, which is why Reid has been negotiating for months without a plan of his own. Just like President Obama’s 2012 budget, if they actually put down in writing what they want, without 2000 pages of fog and misdirection, without a deadline preventing anyone from reading it, they end up with a plan so profoundly politically indefensible that even the bluest Democrat can’t vote for it.
Likewise, Speaker Boehner has no control over the media. Complaints that he has given ammunition to the media are nonsense; the liberal MSM has never demonstrated any hesitation in attacking any Republican for any reason, often from multiple sides simultaneously. The same outlet that accuses him of caving in to right-wing Tea Partiers with this bill will gleefully report complaints from the same groups that he sold them out. Boehner has done what he could to prepare the media battle space. The facts on the grounds are that the House has passed two bills to deal with the debt limit crisis, the Senate and White House: zero. The House plans include modest spending cuts, a Balanced Budget Amendment, and don’t hand out a huge debt limit increase in one dollop; all broadly popular with the voters. The media and Harry Reid must convince the public that the Republicans won’t compromise (which they obviously have already preemptively done) and won’t budge off of unpopular positions (which are actually more popular).
I honestly don’t know how Senator Reid squares this circle, especially within the timeframe of a week or so. He might be able to bulldoze a few Republican Senators to cave on passing a thinly disguised “clean” debt limit increase, but can he expect more than two dozen House Republicans to go along with the charade and vote for a bill with none of the main requirements they just voted for? And even if those House Republicans exist, would Boehner allow it to come to the floor knowing that it has support among only a small minority of Republicans? More likely is that he will kick it back across Capital Hill with the same conditions re-attached.
I have no doubt that the debt limit increase will eventually get passed, but at this point no one can predict which side will cave on which of the three main issues (spending cuts, BBA, size of increase) in order for it to happen. What is safe to predict is a long, hot August.