Conservatives At War Over Boehner Plan

Posted: Jul 26, 2011 5:14 PM

Yesterday, we outlined Speaker Boehner's new, last-ditch plan.  Some on the Right have endorsed Boehner's proposal.  Others are screaming "hell no!"  Who's coming down on which side, and why?  Here's a woefully incomplete, but illustrative, round-up:

Organizations in favor: US Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Tax Reform

Organizations opposed: Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, Heritage Action

Politicians in favor: Allen West, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, James Lankford

Politicians opposed: Rand Paul, Jim Jordan, Jason Chaffetz, Jim DeMint, Lindsey Graham (Also, Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, et al).

This is rapidly degenerating into a full-blown, Right-on-Right street brawl.  Here are some of the best arguments I've seen in favor of Boehner's plan:

Rep. Paul Ryan -

The Budget Control Act takes an important step in the right direction by cutting $1.2 trillion in government spending over the next decade. Critically, it does this without resorting to Senator Reid’s gimmicks and without imposing the president’s preferred tax increases on American families and the struggling economy.

This bill is far from perfect. We still have a long way to go toward getting the key drivers of our debt — especially federal health-care spending — under control. But considering that House Republicans control only one-half of one-third of the federal government, I support this reasonable, responsible effort to cut government spending, avoid a default, and help create a better environment for job creation.

Yuval Levin

As the details of the Boehner bill become clearer, it’s increasingly apparent that the bill is just what the moment calls for: significant cuts achieved through statutory sequestration caps, no tax increase, no backsliding on entitlement reform or implicit acceptance of Obamacare, a path to another process that could lead to more cuts without tax increases, and the setting of a precedent that from now on increases in the debt ceiling must be accompanied by proportional spending cuts. It’s far from perfect, of course—meaningful entitlement reform is the only way to really address the debt problem, and even short of that some more significant discretionary cuts would be good—but Republicans don’t control Washington, and given their limited formal power, an end to this process that looks something like this bill would be pretty remarkable.

James Pethokoukis

Now is not time to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Neither the Reid budget plan nor the Boehner budget plan packs the fiscal wallop of Cut, Cap and Balance. But significant progress on cutting debt can still be made before the Aug. 2 (or is it Aug. 8 or 10 or …) debt ceiling deadline. And by that measure, the Boehner plan is not only far better than the Reid plan, it is a pretty darn good plan in and of itself.

Boehner, on the other hand, would keep the debt cutting process going and more likely result in substantive spending cuts of $3 trillion, nearly three times the Reid plan. (And if you tack on the Reid defense cuts, you suddenly have a $4 trillion plan, including interest savings. The raters would like that.) I don’t think spending hawks should fear the Boehner debt commission if it has real teeth and doesn’t create a trigger for higher taxes.

Fred Thompson -

Right now we are on a path to a $26 trillion debt in ten years, and this is using bogus assumptions about growth and interest payments. The federal government spends over $10 billion a day. We have over $70 trillion in unfunded Medicare liabilities. A problem of this size can be dealt with only by persuading the American people what must be done on a consistent basis over a long period of time. It can’t be done with fits and starts and silver bullets. The issue is not where we will be when the debt-ceiling bill is done, it is where we will be in ten years.

We will never achieve entitlement or tax reform with a doctrinaire liberal in the White House. Any agreements to do so in “out years” would probably be unenforceable even if agreement were achieved. And we can only do so much while controlling one half of one branch of government. Ladies and Gentlemen of the House Republicans, you have laid some great groundwork to rectify both of those situations. Now it is the time to accept a well-won victory and move on.

The crux of the opposition to Boehner's plan is that it doesn't cut enough, soon enough.  There's definitely some merit to those concerns:

Speaker John Boehner’s (R., Ohio) deficit plan calls for a “real reduction in spending” of just $7 billion for fiscal year 2012, which has a lot of conservative and freshman Republicans wary about supporting it. Rep. Tom Graves (R., Ga.), who is a confirmed ‘no’ on the plan, explains to National Review Online that this represents a significant departure from the House budget resolution authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), which calls for a real spending reduction of $31 billion in fiscal year 2012. The House Appropriations Committee, on which Graves sits, uses the Ryan budget as its current baseline for allocating funds. So if congress were to pass Boehner’s plan, and the president were to sign it, House appropriators would effectively be given an additional $24 billion to allocate next year.

The "alternative" being floated by opponents of the plan is that Republicans "hold the line" on "Cut, Cap, and Balance."  Red State's Erick Erickson is among the "kill the deal" crowd:

Tell [your member] to hold the line on Cut, Cap, and Balance.  A host of conservative organizations are coming out against Boehner’s plan because, among other things, it only cuts $6 to $7 billion and punts major reform to a commission of 12 that will only need 7 votes to raise taxes.  Call your congressmen and senators and tell them to hold the freaking line.

My understanding is that the commission would only need seven votes to pass a recommendation to raise taxes, which either House could reject.  As premature as it sounds -- especially given Reid's bravado and Obama's veto threat -- Boehner and McConnell might want to consider naming their six 'commissioners' now.  Names like Ryan and Rubio might help allay concerns about the plan's 'Gang of 12' component among some conservatives. 

As for Cut, Cap, and Balance, this legislation has already died in the Senate.  The White House issued an even stronger veto pledge against it.  It requires 2/3 majorities of both houses to pass its BBA element.  This. Will. Not. Happen.  Like Paul Ryan, I'm not a strong supporter of the Boehner plan, but its opponents need to point to a credible, viable path forward.  CCB doesn't qualify.  That's not an evaluation of the legislation's merits.  It's an assessment of the current state of play, in which liberal Democrats control the Senate and the White House.  As of right now, anti-Boehner plan elements say they're "confident" the Speaker doesn't have the votes to pass his plan.  Democrats are reportedly hoping the House kills it, which would feed their "extremists" narrative, and possibly clear the decks for Reid's plan to advance -- likely attracting some GOP support along the way. 

Rolling the dice and exploring what might happen past August 2 strikes me as a pretty terrible idea that could cause lasting economic damage to the country and unleash brutal political punishment on Republicans.  Unless a realistic and better alternative arises (soon), Republicans should strongly consider rallying behind Boehner's imperfect plan.  Two parting thoughts: Could Obama's veto threat actually help congeal GOP support for the measure?  And if GOP leadership is intent on mustering support for Boehner's proposal, it might help if Eric Cantor stopped lecturing recalcitrant Republicans about not "grumbling and whining" over the plan.  "Shut up and vote yes" isn't particularly persuasive.

UPDATE: Ed Henry reports that White House officials are clarifying that there is "no wiggle room" in the president's veto threat against the Boehner plan.  Anyone want to see the GOP call that bluff, stat?

UPDATE II: Another interesting anti-Boehner plan argument I've heard is that if the credit agencies are going to downgrade us anyway, any plan that passes will be blamed for its failure.  If it happens to be the Boehner plan (and its admittedly paltry cuts), President Obama can come out and pound the desk and insist that because of GOP stubbornness on "revenues," the political system was stuck supporting a bill that didn't solve the problem (unlike, he'll say, his non-existent plan).

UPDATE III - The CBO score of Boehner's plan is out.  According to the number crunchers, it cuts just $13 Billion in FY2012, which amounts to...$1 billion in deficit reduction.  The numbers get better in the out years, but future spending cuts are always dubious.  Ugh.  As I slip into a dystopian malaise, former CBO Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin swoops in with this wonky defense of Boehner's plan.