|Picture courtesy of Taylor Jones|
John Boehner’s debt ceiling proposal would add $1 trillion to the current $14.3 trillion debt limit (which would be expected to allow the government to continue borrowing into April of 2012), reduce spending immediately and cap future spending to save $1.2 trillion over 10 years, and establish a 12-member joint committee of Congress charged with reporting back to both chambers by Nov. 23 with recommendations to reduce the deficit by an additional $1.8 trillion over 10 years. The plan also calls for a vote on a constitutional balanced budget amendment before the end of 2011.
It’s a plan that the usually “mild-mannered” Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) is describing as “tantamount to a form of ‘class warfare’” that “if enacted, it could well produce the greatest increase in poverty and hardship produced by any law in modern U.S. history.” Since Boehner’s blueprint contains no tax increases and his first round of cuts targets discretionary spending, the joint committee will have no choice but to achieve its $1.8 trillion in budget reductions by cutting entitlement spending, Greenstein explains:
As a result, virtually all of that $1.8 trillion would come from entitlement programs. They would have to be cut more than $1.5 trillion in order to produce sufficient interest savings to achieve $1.8 trillion in total savings.Congressional Quarterly’s Richard E. Cohen also reports that Boehner’s powerful panel has “no precise parallel” and will have to overcome severe logistical hurdles. “The panel would then be required to complete its work before Thanksgiving — a period of less than four months that includes the monthlong congressional August recess, two additional weeks of scheduled House breaks and three other weeks when the Senate is slated to be gone.”
To secure $1.5 trillion in entitlement savings over the next ten years would require draconian policy changes. Policymakers would essentially have three choices: 1) cut Social Security and Medicare benefits heavily for current retirees, something that all budget plans from both parties (including House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan) have ruled out; 2) repeal the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansions while retaining its measures that cut Medicare payments and raise tax revenues, even though Republicans seek to repeal many of those measures as well; or 3) eviscerate the safety net for low-income children, parents, senior citizens, and people with disabilities. There is no other plausible way to get $1.5 trillion in entitlement cuts in the next ten years.
In short, the Boehner plan would force policymakers to choose among cutting the incomes and health benefits of ordinary retirees, repealing the guts of health reform and leaving an estimated 34 million more Americans uninsured, and savaging the safety net for the poor. It would do so even as it shielded all tax breaks, including the many lucrative tax breaks for the wealthiest and most powerful individuals and corporations
It would also “have to work with existing House and Senate committees with longstanding jurisdictional claims on the issues in play and build majority support in both chambers of a divided Congress. The GOP has already cautioned that it “will not appoint any members who will approve tax hikes,” a selection criterion that “Reid and Pelosi would most certainly not follow.” The committee’s recommendations would then face up-or-down floor votes in the House and Senate without additional amendments.