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Of “Politricks,” Window-Dressing & Smoking Mirrors: The Boehner and The Reid Debt Reduction Plans‏

Updated on July 30, 2011

As the countdown to the much-anticipated debt default deadline and ominous warnings of catastrophic consequences should political leaders in Washington actually fail to break through the current negotiation impasse reverberate, the whole world watches in transfixed consternation.

To avoid default, Congress must raise the US $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by August 2.

Although poll after poll largely supports the assertion that American people would prefer a compromise package ingeniously incorporating a healthy, balanced mix of spending cuts and revenue increases (an expanded tax base, tax hikes, and the closure of egregious tax loopholes), GOP and Democratic Leadership appear totally tone-deaf.

The divide on the issue has been largely partisan and, in fact, interestingly and most demonstrably so as the deadline approaches. With the bi-partisan efforts of the celebrated Gang of Six in the US Senate now all but abandoned or forgotten, any hope of a negotiated agreement has dissipated.

As of Friday morning, President Obama was continuing to hold out hope. Insisting that, to pass muster, any debt solution must be bi-partisan, he is imploring GOP and Democratic Leaders in Congress to eschew pointless pandering and “step up and show the leadership the American people expect." "The time for putting 'party' first is over," he quipped.

Under tremendous pressure to defend cherished, long-standing ideological positions, each side appears truly dug-in to a point of paralysis.

Having infamously publicly chided his flock earlier in the week to literally “get their asses in line” behind his plan, Speaker John Boehner intensification of last minute efforts, arm-twisting and all, to lock-in the needed votes from recalcitrant GOP law makers to pass his bill paid off late Friday.

The House of Representatives by a sharply polarized vote of 218-210 approved Boehner's proposal; although 22 of the 240 members in the GOP camp still dissented.

Predictably, Democratic Leaders in the Senate wasted no time in swiftly nullifying The House’s action; setting the stage for what promises to be a nail-biting thriller of high-stakes brinkmanship to avoid a possible default next week. By a vote of 59-41, again cast along strict partisan lines, the Senate tabled Boehner’s proposal.

What isn’t immediately obvious is that the two plans currently in contention---Boehner’s and the one sponsored by his Senate counterpart, Democratic President Harry Reid---are ignominiously anything but a sound, honest effort to get to the heart of the country’s fiscal woes.

They really aren’t that far apart. In fact, this whole charade is reminiscent of everything wrong with politics Washington-style. Under the cloak or pretense of policy deal-making, or seemingly striving to accommodate, appease or please everyone, the citizenry are ultimately enamored with terribly watered-down, ineffectual program initiatives.

In this particular instance, as already noted, though it’s quite obvious to any discerning, moderately informed person that any proposal that conveniently excludes or ignores revenue generation is a non-starter, Boehner and Reid both completely acquiesced to pressure from the vociferous political right by completely and most tragically leaving taxes out of their plans.

Even after several re-writes, thanks in large part to the watchful eyes of the unbelievably credible Congressional Budget Office (hard to imagine how this process would be without it), both plans are still little more than procedural stop measures---a potpourri of annual spending caps on a select number of government programs and a newly constituted Congressional Panel that would be tasked with recommending additional savings that will undoubtedly be decimated in the current ideologically charged climate.

Little wonder, therefore, that Robert Bixby, the Executive Director of Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan budget watchdog group, earlier in the week, called Boehner’s and Reid’s plans “better than nothing” because, according to him, they artfully side-stepped the “underling structural deficit in the budget, which results from the fact that revenues are not keeping up with the growth of entitlement programs.”

While Mr. Reid’s proposal would garner about $2.4 trillion in savings over a ten-year period, Mr. Boehner’s would come in at $917 billion.

One crucial difference between both is that Boehner would only initially raise the debt ceiling by $900 billion. It would require a second vote by Congress sometime during the 2012 presidential election season to raise the debt ceiling by a combined $2.5 trillion; which Obama categorically declared unacceptable.

When and if either plan or some mutation of both eventually becomes law, the real task of confronting the tough choices that the moment had called for would have been squandered; it would become obvious that the 112th Congress had figuratively kicked the bucket downstream----pushed off yet again for another political season, possibly with a different set of players, sometime in the distant or not so distant the future.


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