Why Boehner’s Debt Limit Plan Will Have To Fail Before Endgame Becomes Clear

July 26, 2011 1:17 p.m.

High level discussions continue between Democrats and Republicans to make sure Congress raises the debt limit before the Treasury runs out of borrowing authority and has to slash public spending on a massive scale. But for the moment, we’re in a period of repose. In public, few are willing to budge too far off their own party’s plan to raise the debt limit. And members and aides are now believe that a viable solution won’t emerge until one of the existing, partisan plans fails publicly.

In other words, things haven’t moved a whole lot since yesterday. For the moment, most participants expect that the House GOP plan, authored by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will move first, and will fail, either in his own chamber or in the Senate. But they’re now pessimistic that a workable plan will emerge before then, something party leaders were hoping against hope for yesterday.

“I think so — probably that’s the case,” Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) told reporters Tuesday afternoon.Conservative interest groups are split over the Boehner plan. The Chamber of Commerce and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform both support it. The Club for Growth, and FreedomWorks do not. Each is warning Republicans not to cross them.

That makes this a uniquely tough vote for House conservatives — and though GOP aides remain confident it will ultimately pass the House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would likely bring it up for a vote in the Senate, where Democrats have vowed to kill it.

What happens then is anyone’s guess. Senate Republicans, almost to a person, say they want Reid’s plan to go down, too.

“We believe the Reid proposal is not a serious effort to address deficit and debt, and should be defeated,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters at his weekly press conference Tuesday. “We think the Reid proposal goes in the wrong direction and hopefully some time soon we’ll have an opportunity to demonstrate that.”

But that calculus could change after Boehner’s bill goes down, if Democrats let them stew. Perhaps more likely, though, is that as the week winds down, scaled back negotiations will wind back up, and leaders of both parties will figure out exactly how to get the debt limit raised before August 2.

“I’m prepared to accept something less than perfect, because perfect is not achievable,” McConnell said.

Over the weekend, Democrats sought a compromise with Republicans that would have assured an extension of the debt limit through 2012, but would have given Republicans some concrete assurance that Congress passes broader entitlement and tax reforms in the coming months. Talks ultimately broke down over that key point, but that may ultimately be the basis of a final agreement once both sides realize that their plans, as currently written, can’t pass both chambers.

“There are further discussions going on right now, I am open for compromise,” Reid told reporters Tuesday. They would want a trigger on any further fiscal reforms to be balanced — automatic spending cuts and new revenues — and that’s something Republicans have opposed. “We’ve tried — we’ve tried our best to have a trigger with some of the stuff that President Obama worked on with Republicans…they could never get there because it would be so unfair if the committee did not arrive at a positive conclusion — the trigger would be all cuts.”

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