Plan B is the New Plan A

Sam Stein scoops the Senate Democrats’ plans for the week.

The plan, according to a top Senate Democratic aide, is to wait until both chambers vote on the cap, cut and balance measure, which would slash federal spending and then tie it to a percentage of Gross Domestic Product. That measure, preferred by conservatives, is expected to pass the House of Representatives before potentially falling short of the votes needed in the Senate. Once that process is done, the aide said, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will start consideration on the debt-ceiling proposal hatched by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), which would give the president the authority to raise the debt ceiling while vetoing corresponding, commensurate spending cuts.

After the initial round of “huh?” and “wait, what?” wore off, McConnell’s plan has been looking more and more credible in the Senate. On Face the Nation, Tom Coburn had a wide-open chance to denounce the plan, saying it was “more of Washington not taking responsibility.” Pressed further, he made like McConnell and punted: “I haven’t firmly decided but I’m unlikely to support it at this time.” In the Senate, the opposition so far is captured by a series of tweets from Jim DeMint, pledging to use “every tool” to oppose it. But DeMint once said something similar about the tax cut deal, and that passed.

Could this actually unfold in such a predictable manner? House Republicans get to pound their chests and go on record for “Cut, Cap, Balance.” That makes it easier for them to choke down the McConnell plan, or, more likely, a revised McConnell plan with some mechanisms like another debt study commission. (I am not making that part up. Yes, another commission. It’s been discussed.) Why would that be enough for House Republicans? Dozens of them simply don’t believe that it would be a problem to go into default, or get downgraded, for a couple of days. You need them to be convinced that they can trade real cuts for some cuts and a series of political votes. Paul Ryan doesn’t seem to be ruling that out.

Nobody wants to see a default situation happen. The McConnell plan has been received a little more coolly over here in the House, but it wouldn’t surprise me if you have combinations of approaches that come together at the end of the day with this thing.