House Republicans Unveil New Debt Plan

by Andrew Stiles

House Republican leaders briefed members on a comprehensive deficit reduction plan Monday afternoon that would raise the debt ceiling and cut spending by up to $3 trillion over ten years without increasing taxes. The plan calls for a two-tiered approach, as follows:

Step 1:

  • Authorizes a debt-limit increase of about $1 trillion, giving the government sufficient borrowing authority until February or March 2012.
  • Imposes statutory caps on discretionary spending over ten years that would yield about $1.2 trillion in savings. Failure to abide by these caps would trigger automatic, across-the-board reductions.

Step 2:

  • Establishes a joint committee of Congress, comprising 12 members (three from each caucus), the co-chairs of which would be appointed by House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.). The committee would be instructed to come up with between $1.6 trillion and $1.8 trillion in additional deficit reduction — presumably through entitlement reform* — by a target date in late November. A final proposal would need just seven votes to proceed to Congress. Both chambers would then hold up-or-down votes on the proposal — no amendments or filibusters — by December 23, with only simple majority required for passage.
  • If the committee’s plan passes both chambers, the president would be authorized to request an increase in the debt ceiling of up to $1.5 trillion, which would then be subject to a “resolution of disapproval” by Congress in a process that would mirror the one outline in the proposal put forward by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.).
  • If the committee fails to produce an agreement, there would be no automatic trigger mechanisms to impose cuts. Congress would have to proceed through regular processes.

In addition to these two steps, the plan would require both chambers to vote on a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution sometime after October 1. The full text of the legislation will be posted online later today, and GOP leaders hope to vote on the bill as soon as Wednesday. A senior GOP aide said he was optimistic that the plan could pass both chambers. “We believe this is a very credible plan that the Senate will have a very hard time rejecting,” the aide said, hinting that it was very similar to the framework being discussed by congressional leaders over the weekend, but was rejected by the White House.

* The special committee could, in theory, consider revenues in its proposal, but a GOP aide notes: “We appoint members to the committee and we’re not appointing any Republicans who will vote for tax hikes.”