Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Debt limit dust settling?

The House hasn't passed the agreement as of this writing. So we don't know until the votes are counted. But it seems like the debt ceiling fight will now move on to its next round. (Update: The House passed the deal at 10:21 EDT, as Annie-Rose Strasser reports, along with analysis of the deal in Countdown To Catastrophe: The Latest Updates On The Shutdown And The Debt Ceiling Think Progress, dated 10/15/2013 but still being updated on the 16th.)

The Senate bill that looks to be the immediate solution is a deal, even though Obama claimed not to be negotiating over the debt ceiling. One of the provision is a tightened income verification on recipients of government subsidies for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA/Obamacare). George Condon, Jr. discusses the politics of this in a piece written before he had access to details on the latest Senate bill, White House: Debt-Ceiling Deal's Obamacare Change Not ‘Ransom’ National Journal 10/16/2013:

The deal, brokered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, includes a section that modifies Obamacare to include new income-verification requirements for those seeking subsidies under the law. Only five weeks ago, the administration threatened to veto a Republican effort to force income verification for those same subsidy recipients.

Because that language has not been made public, it is unknown how close the two versions are. But White House officials insisted Wednesday that they aren't even close. "Two different proposals," said one top official.

Speaking on background, the official said the House bill would have put "at risk" the basic structure of the law's tax credits and subsidies for individuals "by making them contingent on an IG prospectively certifying that the system was sound. This would have caused unnecessary uncertainty" and delayed health care coverage for millions. In contrast, the version agreed to in the Senate would have the Health and Human Services secretary certify to Congress that eligibility is being verified. The official said that the compromise has the Inspector General "perform a retrospective analysis, which is consistent with the traditional role of an IG, and will not impede or affect the provision of benefits to individuals through the ACA."

Press secretary Jay Carney also struck a confident pose when he dismissed the suggestion that the president had paid even a little bit of ransom in moving on the GOP verification effort. That provision, Carney told reporters, "was negotiated by Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans and is a modest adjustment to the existing Affordable Care Act law. We have always said we are willing to make improvements and adjustments to the law. Ransom would be a wholly different thing." Pressed at his briefing, Carney added, "We're fine with it."

He said the president stuck to his guns in refusing to accept any effort by Republicans "to extract unilateral political concessions in return for Congress fulfilling its fundamental responsibilities." [my emphasis]
It remains to be seen how serious a problem that could become. The Republicans in Congress and the courts are already chipping away at the ACA, even though the quixotic defunding attempt failed. They can be expected to continue such efforts.

Peter Grier in Debt limit debacle: Who won and who lost? Christian Science Monitor 10/16/2013 talks about a major feature of the non-ransom deal, the short time it sets up for the next major round of what we just went through:

The Republican Party’s poll numbers have plunged to record lows, but numbers for Democrats have fallen as well. Mr. Obama’s job approval rating has reached a new low in the RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls: 51.4 percent now have an unfavorable opinion of his actions.

Yes, the Senate compromise leaves the GOP with virtually nothing new to show for the shutdown and default crisis. But is that victory for the Democratic Party? Spending levels remain locked at sequester levels, much lower than Democrats would like. The agreement only keeps the government open until Jan. 15 and raises the debt ceiling until Feb. 7. That means it’s possible we'’ll be back in the same fight next year. [my emphasis]
The "next year" in question is three months from now. That's quite a limited victory, from my viewpoint.

And for all my criticism as well as many others of the craziness of the Congressional Republicans' recent behavior, there was an at least not-unreasonable ground to believe they could have pressured Obama into making major concessions over the debt ceiling.

And political fiscal crises, as much as they seem alike, take place amid subtly different circumstances, so we wouldn't rule tactics in or out. Remember, the GOP thought Democrats would crack this time, as they did in 2011's budget battle. But that experience just made the administration all the more determined to hang tough this time. [my emphasis]
And a sobering portion of this fight, which for the Democrats was a more hardline stand than we're used to seeing them take, was that not only Obama but other Dems like Dick Durbin were eager to offer up "entitlement reform," i.e., cuts in benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as a post-non-negotiation negotiation after the debt ceiling was raised.

Felix Salmon also emphasizes the significance of the timetable (Barack Obama vs zombies Reuters 10/16/2013):

But as a feeling of relief courses through Washington and the markets, let’s not get carried away. Yes, as Jonathan Chait says, it’s very good news that the House Republicans’ plan collapsed. But the can hasn't been kicked very far down the road: we’re going to hit the debt ceiling again in just a few short months. And at that point, one of two things will happen. Either the Republicans, licking their self-inflicted wounds from the current fiasco, will quietly and efficiently pass a bill while getting nothing in return. Or, in the spirit of "if at first you don’t succeed", they will try, try again.
We have every reason to believe that the latter will be the case.

And Salmon reminds us that there is, for Democrats, an unpleasant recent precedent for this situation the non-deal deal creates:

Remember that the sequester was initially put into place as a way to force the hand of any self-interested, logical group of politicians. They had to either come to an agreement — or face an outcome which was specifically designed to be as unpalatable to as many different interest groups as possible. And yet, despite the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, the politicians squabbled until it fell. The bigger sword, the debt ceiling, has not fallen yet — but I for one have no particular faith in the ability of Congress to always prevent it from doing so.
It's nice that Congress appears to be ready to back off from the House Republicans' attempt to crash the world financial system. But now the same fight is coming up again right around the corner.

Rick Perlstein on Facebook flagged this article by Bob Kuttner, A Letter From the GOP to Itself: Why We Will Come Out Ahead 10/14/2013 Huffington Post . Perlstein commented, "Kuttner brilliant explicates my principle that Obamaism loses, even or especially when it wins."

In this case, the result of a supposed Democratic win is to keep the sequester levels of austerity spending in place and set up another near-term battle in which the Republicans can threaten the faith and credit of the United States with a refusal to raise the debt limit, which in turn is likely to result in additional austerity. I don't won't to be pessimistic. But I do want to be realistic about what we're seeing.

We need better than "Obamaism" from the Democratic Party.

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