Feb. 10, 2016
Tom Williams/Roll Call

Debt Deal Moving On to Plan B

Leaders Look to Give Members Political Cover

Plan B is fast becoming Plan A for raising the debt ceiling and averting a fiscal crisis. With the White House’s push for a “grand bargain” fizzling and two weeks to go before the Aug. 2 debt default deadline set by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Senate leaders are negotiating a way to sidestep a default while providing maximum political cover for Members of Congress who believe they face a potentially career-ending vote.

Of course, the Senate plan would do little to put a dent in the deficit, and it falls well short of the $4 trillion deficit reduction package that Standard & Poor’s warned last week was needed to avoid a downgrade of the United States’ first-rate AAA bond rating.

For now, both chambers are moving forward this week with votes on a tea-party-backed Cut, Cap and Balance plan that would tie a debt ceiling increase to passage of a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget and deep spending cuts. “We have to check the boxes,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “One of them is to engage in this debate,” even though he said there’s no chance the GOP effort would succeed.

The votes in both chambers appear to be designed to give Members a face-saving way to eventually vote for the Plan B proposal.

“Everyone gets to vote on their Plan A before they go to Plan B,” a Senate GOP aide said.

The proposal being written by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) builds on McConnell’s fallback plan to give President Barack Obama the authority to raise the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion in three installments. It would also kick the broader budget fight over that elusive $4 trillion grand bargain to a new joint committee empowered to bring a deficit reduction bill to the House and Senate floor for votes by the end of the year.

To save time, Democratic aides said the still-forming Reid-McConnell package would likely be substituted for a Sense of the Senate resolution now pending. If it passed the Senate, the House would be expected to add a package of more than $1 trillion in spending cuts and to send it back to the Senate for final passage.

The House, however, isn’t yet on board with that approach. For many tea party loyalists in Congress, the McConnell language is a classic Washington dodge and a cop out. But barring some breakthrough, the House may still fall short of the votes for a plan the president will sign before Wall Street starts hitting the panic button.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio), who is championing the Cut, Cap and Balance legislation, said on “Fox News Sunday” that conservatives would not support the McConnell plan. But he said it’s possible Democrats and some Republicans could pass something without his group.

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