Trigger Talk

by Andrew Stiles

Even before the Senate passed a final debt ceiling package, party leaders were already sparring over the next big fight, which is likely to involve the special committee or “supercongress” created in the deal — specifically, the “trigger” mechanism designed to go into effect if the committee fails to reach an agreement on a second round of deficit reduction, which would impose more than $1 trillion in spending cuts, equally divided been security and non-security spending.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) warned that if new tax revenue was not included in the committee’s proposal, the trigger would be pulled. Many Democrats are outraged that the recently-passed bill included no new taxes and are insisting that the committee produce a plan that does. “It’s the only way you can get a larger handle on the deficit problem,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.). Schumer said the inclusion of a trigger that involves “very, very, very deep” cuts to defense spending, was something that “brought Democrats around” in support of the final deal. Such a trigger, he said, was akin to “sharp swords hanging over the heads of both parties.”

“Hopefully they can bring both sides together to realize coming to a compromise is better than the trigger being implemented,” he said. “That’s the point.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.), a senior member on the Senate Budget Committee, was less diplomatic. He said Democrats would have significant leverage going forward that would allow them to press for higher taxes, which he called “the number one priority,” and suffer relatively few consequences if the trigger is activated. “Those of us who are for revenue I think are in a pretty strong position because we’re not too concerned, as we were with the debt ceiling, that if we don’t reach an agreement it will be devastating to our priorities,” he said. (Apparently, national defense is no longer a Democratic priority.)

On the Republican side, party leaders appeared more confident that the committee would be able to come to an agreement. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) told reporters that the committee “is not going to gridlock, in my opinion.” Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.) pointed out that the debt ceiling negotiations were often at an impasse, but eventually yielded a bipartisan compromise.

“We decided to concentrate power in this joint-committee because we have an extraordinary problem,” McConnell said. “If the normal way we do business was adequate, we wouldn’t have a $14 trillion debt or $50 trillion in unfunded liabilities. We needed to do something different.” The Republican leader said he would work with Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.) to select three GOP Senators to serve on the committee, and would decide “very soon.” McConnell’s appointees, he said, would be members who “shared the principles” that have guided the Republican position through the negotiations.

Following the vote, the two parties also seemed to be competing to see which side could “pivot to jobs” the quickest. Schumer told reporters Democrats planned to “reset the debate” in Washington to one that is focused on job creation. “The jobs issue will no longer play second fiddle to the deficit issue,” he said. Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) said their goal would be to address the county’s “other deficits.” For example, the “infrastructure deficit, education and skills training deficit, and jobs deficit,” which would lead one to assume that by “pivot to jobs,” what Democrats really mean is “revisit the stimulus.”

The GOP, of course, had a completely different vision. “We don’t blame the president for the problems he’s inherited,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.). “But we do hold him responsible for making it worse.” Republicans aren’t “pivoting to jobs” because that has been their focus all along, they argue, primarily through their opposition to President Obama’s “job-crushing agenda.”

“I’m often asked what I would do get this economy growing again, and the answer is: We need to stop doing what we’ve been doing,” McConnell said. “We need to quit borrowing, quit spending, quit trying to raise taxes, quit over-regulating and let the private sector thrive…which of course would bring in more revenue for the government.”

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