The Road (Maybe) Ahead

REUTERS/Larry Downing
REUTERS/Larry Downing

This isn’t a prediction, but here is one highly plausible sequence of a series of events that could play out on the debt crisis:

Some time in the next 5 days, the President reaches an understanding with Speaker Boehner, Congressman Hoyer, and Senators Reid and McConnell for a deficit reduction/debt ceiling package that will be described as $4 trillion over a dozen years that will be heavily weighted towards spending cuts. There will be some language about a corporate tax reform measure (lower rates, fewer deductions) to be worked on in short order.

The media will initially be all excited about the deal, but will turn almost instantly towards declaring it has no chance to pass, seizing on every criticism of the package or declaration of opposition as sure-fire signs the proposal is dead. The outcry against the package (both before and after the details are known) will be intense on both the left and the right. Interest groups from all quarters will denounce the measure as unacceptable. National security conservatives, for example, will declare that the Pentagon cuts will eviscerate America’s ability to defend itself; liberal groups will deem the entitlement reductions unacceptable. Thumbs down will also come from Paul Krugman, Rush Limbaugh, and every Republican running for president in 2012. Boehner’s deputies – Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy – will do a gut check and then agree to get the behemoth through the House. Center-left and center-right newspaper columnists and ed boards will all say, in effect, Congress should hold its collective nose and vote “yes.” Senate passage will be complicated, but the bill will receive overwhelming bipartisan support, with almost all in favor emphasizing the historic opportunity to truly address our national balance sheet – and the necessity of avoiding a government default.

Those same arguments will also be used in the House, by both Boehner and Hoyer, whose aides will have to work in tandem to figure out how to win 218 votes. Democratic strategists (including those associated with the President) will quietly argue to liberals that this is the best deal they could get, and that a deal is vital. They will also argue (even more quietly) that such a deal will make the President’s re-election even more likely (by as much as 15%-20%), freeing him up to raise more money for them in 2012. Smart/honest Republicans will agree with that judgment, but will be powerless to make it in public. As the House prepares to vote, the media will declare again that there is virtually no chance of passage. Strange-bedfellow allies, including prominent elements of Big Business and Big Labor – plus, inevitably, Bill Clinton – will make the “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” argument in public and in private. As the measure’s details become more known, there will be another round of fly-specking from webizens of the left and the right, declaring the package the worst thing ever considered by Congress in American history. Obama will give some blockbuster speech explaining why the bill must pass. The measure will appear dead both before and immediately after his speech. Then a handful of liberal and conservative House members will come off the fence and declare themselves in favor (some might even flip from declared opposition). There will be TV and radio ads against the measure, and various online petitions. The Simpson-Bowles crowd will belatedly get on the field and fund some limited advertising.

And, then, the bill will heart-stoppingly pass the House, with some secret backroom deals and lobbying that will be revealed (if ever) only long after the fact. Reps. Bachmann and Pelosi will vote against. And then it will fully dawn on Boehner and McConnell at the White House signing ceremony (likely as Obama is handing them their souvenir pens) that they were part of history, including part of the part where Obama was able to take off the table the single most damaging issue that could be used against him in 2012.

Related Topics: Budget, Congress

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