White House throws support behind Reid plan

This afternoon, the White House issued a statement announcing its support for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) debt-reduction plan. The phrasing seems carefully chosen — remember, Reid’s plan isn’t “balanced,” so it’s in conflict with President Obama’s demands — but is ultimately complimentary.

“The President has been advocating a balanced plan that would reduce our deficit by $4 trillion by making large cuts in domestic and Pentagon spending, reforming entitlement programs, and closing tax loopholes for corporations, millionaires and billionaires. This sort of approach won support from Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, but the House Republicans walked away after insisting that the budget be balanced on the backs of seniors and the middle class.

“Now, faced with the ‘my way or the highway,’ short-term approach of the House Republicans, Senator Reid has put forward a responsible compromise that cuts spending in a way that protects critical investments and does not harm the economic recovery. All the cuts put forward in this approach were previously agreed to by both parties through the process led by the Vice President. Senator Reid’s plan also reduces the deficit more than enough to meet the contrived dollar-for-dollar criteria called for by House Republicans, and, most importantly, it removes the cloud of a possible default from our economy through 2012. The plan would make a meaningful down payment in addressing our fiscal challenge, and we could continue to work together to build on it with a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes additional spending reforms and closing tax loopholes for corporations, millionaires and billionaires.

“Senator Reid’s plan is a reasonable approach that should receive the support of both parties, and we hope the House Republicans will agree to this plan so that America can avoid defaulting on our obligations for the first time in our history. The ball is in their court.”

Yes, this is probably a good time to note that Republicans reflexively oppose everything President Obama supports, which means the White House endorsement immediately imperils the Reid offer.

That said, one the specific points in the statement jumped out: the plan from the Senate Majority Leader features cuts that were “previously agreed to by both parties.” In other words, Harry Reid is calling the GOP’s bluff twice — once with the overall target, and again with the cuts themselves.

As for the plan itself, as advertised, it offers $2.7 trillion in savings, $1.2 trillion of which will come from discretionary spending cuts. Another $1 trillion relies on savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Remember, the Senate Majority Leader’s framework effectively uses the GOP ransom note as a blueprint. Reid’s plan (1) includes about $2.7 trillion in debt reduction, just as Republicans demanded; (2) brings in nothing in the way of new revenue just as Republicans demanded; and (3) requires only one debt-ceiling increase this Congress, just as GOP leaders demanded.

Will Republicans refuse to take “yes” for an answer? Almost certainly, yes, they will. But it will be interesting to hear them explain why Harry Reid gave the GOP everything the party claimed it wanted, and the offer was still deemed inadequate.

As for the process, if Reid’s plan is going to serve as the Democratic proposal to resolve the crisis, the Senate leadership is going to have to move quickly to put the plan in legislative form and start the clock on a vote. And if the House ignores Reid’s offer, and keeps pushing Speaker Boehner’s alternative, we can expect a legislative train-wreck later in the week, en route to a meltdown next week.