The Two Phase Boehner Deal

Appearing on the Rush Limbaugh radio show today, House Speaker John Boehner spoke of hammering out a two-phase budget deal with Democrat leaders – pointedly excluding the childish and irrelevant President, who need only grab his favorite color of crayon and sign the deal when it crosses his desk.

Here’s what the adults came up with, after Obama was sent from the room:

Phase One would be $1.1 trillion in “real” spending cuts, which will be hammered out by a bipartisan committee.  Boehner promised these cuts would not come from the defense budget, or consist of cute little tricks like calling tax deductions for citizens “tax expenditures,” and treating their cancellation as a “spending cut.” 

The deal also imposes a cap on discretionary spending – which excludes entitlements, servicing the national debt, and so forth.  There would be no tax increases of any kind.

At the same time, the debt limit would be increased by $1 trillion.  This would keep Washington bumping and squeaking along until April.

Phase Two would begin with a vote on the Balanced Budget Amendment, which must come sometime before April.  Congress would also create a joint committee to address entitlement reform, with a goal of reducing the deficit by at least $1.8 trillion over 10 years.  If such a proposal is successfully enacted, the President would be able to request another $1.6 trillion in debt.

According to Fox News, Boehner calls this proposal “A Two-Step Approach To Hold President Obama Accountable.”  Rejected names include the “Barack Obama Is The Worst President Ever Act” and “Harry Potter And the Balanced Budget Amendment.”  Boehner will probably have to change the name again if he wants to attract any Democrat signatures, although he says he’s gotten some nibbles on his line from Harry Reid and other big liberal fish.

On the bright side, producing a deal that does not raise taxes would be both objectively good, and a stunning political defeat for the President.  He was, when last heard from, still shrieking about corporate jets and insisting he would sign no deal that does not raise somebody’s taxes.

Also, the Republicans deserve credit for coming up with yet another real plan, including specific proposals that have concrete dollar values.  There still hasn’t been anything like that from the other side of the aisle, although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is reportedly floating a rumor about thinking seriously about entertaining the possibility of maybe advancing an actual budget plan one of these days.

On the other hand, Boehner’s proposal compromises on too much, and thinks too small.  For anyone seriously concerned with bringing Washington under control, this is not enough.

We’re back to talking about the kind of puny deficit relief that the Gang of Six wanted.  Add up the deficit reduction in Boehner’s plan, and you’ll come up with a sum very close to the $3.7 trillion in the G6 proposal.  That’s chicken feed compared to the staggering amount of debt we’re projected to assume over the next ten years, or the monstrous pile already sitting on top of us.

While the Speaker talks of preserving the principles of the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act, his plan dilutes these principles into some mighty thin gruel.  In exchange for another trillion in debt, we get a promise to hold a vote on the Balance Budget Act.  The offered budget cuts don’t even force Obama back down to Bush levels of spending.  The “cap” becomes a set of guidelines, which the next Congress will have little trouble discarding. 

Besides, if these spending caps are so healthy, why does Boehner’s proposal serve up all that deep-fried additional debt?  Why do we need a total of $2.6 trillion more debt, if we’re “Holding President Obama Accountable?”  He ran up $4 trillion of debt in two years, and now we’re going to give him another $2.6 trillion in exchange for “proposals” to reduce the deficit over the next decade?  That sounds equivalent to boasting about your exciting new diet, while driving to the mall to buy some bigger pants.  How about if we just stop increasing that huge mountain of debt right now?

We reached this perilous cliffhanger of government insolvency despite all sorts of commissions, plans, promises, and ten-year projections.  If the Republicans give away every other aspect of fiscal sanity in their proposals, just to wrestle the Democrats’ “non-negotiable” tax increases off the table, then the Democrats will have proven to be the superior bargainers. 

The precedent will have been set for Democrats: lead off every negotiation with a belligerent demand for tax hikes, then charge an exorbitant price for letting them go.  That doesn’t sound like the kind of deal-making that leads to small and sustainable government.