The Senate sure was excited yesterday after the Gang of Six presented its $3.7 trillion debt-reduction plan. Several members immediately embraced it and predicted it could easily pass the chamber with bipartisan support. Perhaps my favorite reaction came from Sen. Roger Wicker (R) of Mississippi who declared, “We ought to declare victory, get it ready to vote on, and try to form some sort of supermajority critical mass and save the day.”
Remember, Wicker had only seen a rough blueprint of the plan, the details of which are still being ironed out.
At this point, there are three main questions to keep in mind: (1) does the Gang of Six’s plan offer a solution that can pass before Aug. 2; (2) can it pass the House; and (3) is the plan any good.
I’m going with “no,” “probably not,” and “not really,” in that order.
On the first point, the Gang is probably just too late, at least to meet the looming deadline. In 13 days, the United States will have exhausted its ability to pay its bills. Regardless of merit or enthusiasm, the Gang of Six has an outline, not a piece of legislation. It will take time to write the bill, maybe send it to a committee, get a congressional budget analysis/score, overcome a filibuster, hold a debate, and send it to the House in time for the lower chamber to do the same thing.
There are experts in legislative procedure who can speak to this with more authority than I can, but at first blush, I think it’s literally impossible, even if the proposal has 60+ votes (which it may not).
On the second point, senators may be impressed, but in case anyone’s forgotten, there’s a radicalized House Republican majority that believes new revenue is a part of a communist plot to destroy America — and the Gang of Six plan intends to bring in roughly $1 trillion in new revenue.
The new de-facto leader of the lower chamber wasn’t exactly receptive to the plan.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a statement that the plan contains “some constructive ideas for dealing with our debt,” but he objected to the revenue goals, arguing that “a tax increase is the wrong policy to pursue with so many Americans out of work.”
The actual Speaker, who’s already been burned once endorsing a grand bargain, struck a similar tone.
A spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner said, “This plan shares many similarities with the framework the speaker discussed with the president, but also appears to fall short in some important areas.”
In fairness, comments like these obviously don’t reflect firm rejections. It’s a stretch, but in the end, perhaps the House GOP would be open more amenable to compromise if the plan comes from a bipartisan Senate gang, rather than that rascally White House.
But that strikes me as wishful thinking. House Republicans have demanded no new revenue for months, and the notion that they’ll suddenly embrace a plan with $1 trillion in revenue strikes me as plainly unrealistic.
And finally, as to the plan’s merit, Ezra Klein published a good summary late yesterday. Long-story short: it looks an awful lot like Simpson-Bowles.