The Senate's bipartisan "Gang of Six" shook up the Capitol Hill debate on the debt ceiling yesterday with a bold plan that gained momentum among key Senators. The plan would include $3.7 trillion in cuts over ten years, with some tax and entitlement reform. But will the elements of the plan pass both the House and Senate and provide a way out of the impasse in the debt ceiling negotiations with the congressional leadership and The White House?
If you want the specific details of the plan, read here: Gang of Six Plan - Details
Will It Pass The Senate?
While it's still too early for us to do a tentative vote count, it seems likely that the Gang of Six plan could pass the Senate with bipartisan support. The number three Republican in the Senate, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, was supportive of the Gang of Six plan. Several more Republicans appear ready to vote with all (or most of) the Senate Democrats to put the bills over the 60-vote threshold for cloture. This would likely include Gang of Six members Tom Coburn (Oklahoma), Mike Crapo (Idaho), and Saxby Chambliss. Conservative Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas has also expressed support.
Could It Pass in The House of Representatives?
The House of Representatives is larger, more partisan, and more majoritarian than the Senate. This is why getting any debt ceiling/deficit reduction bill through Congress depends very much on the temperament of the House of Representatives. Speaker John Boehner implored the House Republicans to remain united in favor of yesterday's "Cut, Cap, and Balance" legislation so that the Republicans would have a better hand at the negotiating table. This suggests that Speaker Boehner wants to use the unity and inflexibility of the House Republican caucus to force a better deal from the Democrats.
Unfortunately, this would be a recipe for disaster because a final deal would require some support from both sides.
Given the various interests of the Republican members, it would be possible to get the votes for a Gang of Six proposal. But the Senate would have to take the lead, build momentum for the deal, and put Senate Republicans on record in favor of a deal. If conservative Republicans in the Senate backed the Gang of Six proposal, some House Republicans might get enough political cover to push the proposals over the edge.
(1) All revenue raising legislation (taxes) must originate in the House of Representatives, pursuant to the U.S. Constitution. A large part of the Gang of Six plan consists of tax code legislation.
(2) The plan isn't the best thing in the world for Democrats. Democrats, especially the more ideological Democrats in the House of Representatives, aren't going to like much of what the plan does with taxes and entitlement reform. Fortunately, the Gang of Six left quite a bit of wiggle room, so these issues could be pushed to a future debate.
(3) There's no time. Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate Majority Whip and a Democratic member of the Gang of Six, asserts that there would be no time to fix the details of the legislation, have it scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and push it through the legislative process in time to raise the debt ceiling and pass the package.
So, What Would We Do?
Senator Durbin is probably right that time is limited. But if the final deal isn't based on the Gang of Six package, it will probably still require House and Senate staff to scramble each element through the legislative process.
We would recommend using the Gang of Six package as the basis for a debt ceiling deal. The legislation could come in separate parts so that the debt ceiling would be raised and most of the Gang of Six program could be voted on afterwards.
We would also recommend that the Gang of Six start filling in the details on the vague aspects of the deal and go on the offensive. The Gang of Six should secure public statements from as many Senate Republicans as possible supporting the Gang of Six proposals. The Gang of Six needs to generate and sustain momentum in the Senate before certain groups and ideologues, like Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform, incite the Republican base against the tax code provisions of the proposal. This could cause a situation where conservative Republicans would be unable to vote for this bipartisan proposal.
Finally, the best way to get opinions on the record before opposition groups attack the Gang of Six proposal is to vote. Since any actual legislation would probably need to originate in the House, the Gang of Six could try a "sense of the Senate" resolution expressing support for the proposal. Such a resolution would have no legislative character, but it would "express the sense of the Senate" on a question. This would be a good way to put Senate opinions on the record and force Speaker Boehner's hand in the House.
Links To All Of Our Previous Gang of Six Posts
July 19: Gang of Six Plan - Details
April 24: New Revelations About The Gang of Six and The Budget Battle
April 16: Gang of Six Seeking A Plan On Debt
Key Figures and Terms
Gang of Six
Saxby Chambliss (R - Georgia)
Tom Coburn (R - Oklahoma)
Mike Crapo (R - Idaho)
Mark Warner (D - Virginia)
Dick Durbin (D - Illinois) (Senate Majority Whip)
Kent Conrad (D - North Dakota) (Moderate Democrat, Chairman, Senate Budget Committee)
Leadership To Watch
Harry Reid (D - Nevada) (Senate Majority Leader)
Mitch McConnell (R - Kentucky) (Senate Minority Leader)
Lamar Alexander (R - Tennessee) (number three Republican)
John Boehner (R - Ohio) (Speaker of the House)
Eric Cantor (R - Virginia) (House Majority Leader)
Nancy Pelosi (House Minority Leader)