Posted Sunday, July 31, 2011, at 5:59 PM
The Senate's Democratic leaders emerged from more than an hour of talks in Nancy Pelosi's office with carefully couched news. Harry Reid had agreed to a deal, "pending caucus approval," according to his spokesman Adam Jentleson. The Senate Democratic caucus will be an easier sell than the House Democratic caucus; we'll worry about that later.
What do they need to agree to? Right now, the moment that the deal is passed, the debt limit will be raised by $400 billion. Another $500 billion hike will happen later and is subject to a resolution of disapproval. And after that, we get into the joint committee and the triggers. Right now the triggers will consist of half cuts to defense spending, half cuts to non-defense spending. No revenue, as we've known all day -- just cuts. The entitlement cuts won't hit Medicaid or Social Security -- they'll hit Medicare, specifically funding for Medicare providers. We know less about the defense cuts, but the key is that the cuts are percentages, not numbers.
The joint committee's mission is to find $1.2 trillion or more in cuts. If it succeeds, then only $300 billion more will be cut along the lines in the triggers. If it fails, then get ready for $1.5 trillion in cuts based on the triggers. They'll be ugly, they'll be blunt. The percentages have no mercy -- the only way to avoid those cuts is to pass the joint committee's plan.
What's left to figure out? Those pesky defense cuts in the first stage of the plan -- not the triggers, the other stuff. Republicans and Joe Lieberman have both vocalized their concerns with defense cuts and want to talk them down. The dispute is over whether they have to be 3 percent or whether they can be knocked down to 2 percent. Once that's figured out, we'll see an amendment that codifies all of this. The Boehner bill will be brought off the table in the Senate. The amendment will be voted on. (This vote won't happen until and unless enough people have agreed to this.) The bill will be passed and sent to the House.
You'll notice that there's no CBO score yet in this process. Because the Boehner and Reid plans have already been scored, Democrats are confident that they have the numbers for this plan already and can hurry up and vote.