Around the State
The debt-limit negotiations led by our president hit more roadblocks this week as the “big eight” lawmakers made trips to the White House almost daily to meet with the president and his team on the looming debt-limit crisis.
By midweek, the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had unveiled a plan he named “plan B” and only wants it to be implemented if the debt negotiators ultimately fail to come to an agreement as to how to raise the debt limit. The plan would allow the president up to three automatic increases of the debt ceiling.
These three increases would occur between now and November 2012. The first would be limited to $600 billion, followed by $900 billion and then, if necessary, a final $900 billion. These automatic increases must be accompanied by spending cuts of at least $1 more than the debt-limit dollar amount.
The only way that Congress could block any of these debt increases would be if two-thirds of the membership of both the House and Senate vote to block the increase. Then the president could veto the disapproval legislation and Congress would have to override the president’s veto. This would require another vote in Congress of at least two-thirds of both houses of Congress to vote to disapprove the debt increase, notwithstanding the objection of the president. This, in effect, would allow for incremental debt increases and up to six congressional votes in total between now and the November 2012 elections.
The House GOP is not in favor of the McConnell “plan B” proposal as of this writing. Consequently, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is scheduling a vote on the "cut, cap and balance" bill, HR 2560, by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and others. This will require Congress to cut spending, cap their rate of spending, and then to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that requires the federal government to balance its budget annually. Since 49 other states have the same requirement, if the balanced budget idea ever passed Congress, there is a good chance that states would ratify it in rather quick fashion. However, many Hill watchers believe passing this constitutional amendment in Congress, which requires the support of two-thirds of both the House and Senate, will be a tall order.
In addition to voting on the "cut, cap and balance" legislation, the House will continue passing appropriations bills with the legislative branch appropriations bill scheduled this week on the House floor. The House is also scheduled to pass the 21st extension of the authorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. This agency hasn’t been funded on an annual basis for over four years. This extension would fund the agency through Sept. 16. Also, the House is preparing to pass HR 1315, which curbs some of the authority given to our federal government under the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill.
The Senate will continue to debate its first appropriations bill since 2009 -- that being the military construction appropriations bill. The Senate has had to plow through questions by the GOP targeting Senate Democrats as to why and how the Senate is debating any of the appropriations bills since they haven’t passed an overall budget resolution for two years in a row. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said in a statement: “Congress has few responsibilities greater than the requirement to pass a budget each year." Sadly, the Democrat majority has refused to complete this fundamental task in 806 days.
As part of the Congressional Budget Act, it is a violation of the act to pass an appropriations bill absent a budget since you can’t know how to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money if you don’t have a plan. The Senate raised a budget point of order against the military construction appropriations bill using this very logic, but the Senate Democrats voted to waive the budget requirement. The vote passed with all Senate Democrats supporting the waiver including three Senate Republicans. They were Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Scott Brown, R-Mass., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
Sen. McConnell will continue to work on his “plan B” proposal this week, while the Senate chamber debate will focus on the military construction appropriations bill. Many believe that the Senate minority leader could be successful in negotiating a deal with Sen. Harry Reid, R-Nev., on some sort of variation of his automatic debt-limit increase plan. They are working to come up with additional language that will charge an outside debt commission to construct spending cuts and caps forcing some sort of vote in Congress on their recommendation by the end of the year. A vote on a constitutional amendment to balance the budget is also expected to be a part of the deal.
Stay tuned to hear how this week’s White House debt meeting progresses while the House debates the "cut, cap and balance" bill and the Senate leaders tinker with the so-called “plan B” proposal.
Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, elected United States Senate secretary for the majority and minority. Currently she is a senior legislative adviser for Covington & Burling, LLC and is the founder of GradeGov.com.