Unlike several of my colleagues, I find there is a lot to like in the plan put forward yesterday by Speaker Boehner.
I like the idea of a smaller increase in the debt ceiling to give time and a sense of urgency to work out some very difficult problems that can't be solved in the short term.
I like the idea of this debate taking place again during the course of the 2012 election campaign as a way to put our candidates at all levels on the record in favor of fiscal sanity.
I like the idea of statutory caps on spending though, having lived through the era of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act and the Concord Coalition, I'm not terribly sanguine about any statutory measure that doesn't involve federal marshals and congressmen spending time in jail for failure to comply. Just remember, there is statutory requirement that the Senate pass an annual budget.
What is unthinkable, in my view, is this bastardized "joint committee."
As they say, the devil is in the details. I'll freely admit that I don't know the details of how this committee would operate but, on the other hand, the people who want me to support the plan haven't seen fit to share those details either. This makes it, to use the metaphor I grew up with, a pig in a poke.
On its face the idea looks enticing. To get any substantive reform of Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security through the Senate requires finding a way to 1) ensure the bill is actually voted on and 2) prevent the lefty Dems who dominate that body from using a filibuster or attaching contradictory amendments. In the final analysis, this is the kind of operation that will have to take place, something along the lines of the Base Realignment and Closing Commissions, that will prevent a minority of senators from driving us into the fiscal ditch.
The main problem with this that conservatives will only have a maximum of three votes on the committee. There is no way a Jim DeMint, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, or even that arch-conservative Orin Hatch are going to be selected by McConnell to sit on the committee. We'll have three squishy, go-along-get-along "statesmen" who will do what they are told by Schumer, Durbin, and Reid. From the outset, conservatives lose this battle.
The second problem is that we don't know what the "joint committee" will look at. We know from the outset that at least six of the twelve members will consider any reductions in taxes a "tax expenditure" and will demand that tax rates be up for negotiation. I'd feel better if there was more precision in describing what the joint committee would cut.
The third problem is, and it may result in a poor choice of words by the various sources, that there is no requirement that the president sign anything to get the $1.5T in additional debt authority. In other words, the joint committee is engaged in little more than mutual onanism.
This makes the deal a non-starter as far as I'm concerned. I'd feel much more comfortable with the Speaker committed to executing the first half of the plan as often as it takes because the man who determines the success or failure of the second part is Obama who has shown he cares about nothing more than his reelection.