Given what happened in July 2011 when they decided to do the opposite (you remember the anything-but-super committee, right?), we should all be happy House Republicans have agreed that this time they won't hold hostage the increase in the federal debt ceiling the Treasury says will be needed by the end of February.
We should also be grateful that legislation embodying the House GOP plan will be debated and presumably passed in the House today -- about a month before the deadline.
But it's important to note this moment in federal budget history: The House GOP plan is nothing less than total capitulation to the Obama administration and Senate Democrats.
How much of a surrender? In 2011 Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was saying that a debt ceiling would never again get adopted unless the president agreed to concessions. Eighteen months later the debt ceiling effectively is being raised with no White House concessions and the GOP is struggling to come up with some kind of spin it can use to counteract what everyone can see...that it tucked its tail between its fiscal legs and rolled over.
The exact same plan the Republicans are about to approve would have caused howls of protest had it been suggested to them by the Obama White House. A Democratic version of this plan would have evoked angry criticism by conservative pundits, been the main topic of conversation on right wing radio and resulted in frequent protests by tea partiers outside the Capital. And it definitely would have been a topic for comedy homologues on late-night television.
How much of a surrender is the House GOP plan? Consider the following:
- The plan doesn't just allow the government to borrow more, it requires the existing ceiling to be ignored. The party that supposedly was the darlings of the Tea Party is proposing that the same federal debt ceiling that up-to-now it has likened to a tool of Satan be treated as if it's not there and doesn't matter.
- The ignoring is allowed to continue until May 15. At that point, the debt ceiling will increase automatically to accommodate the additional borrowing the government has done between now and then. In this GOP-proposed version of the "look ma, no hands" theory of budgeting, House Republicans are voting to raise the amount the government borrows without anyone having to go on record to do it. They don't even get a campaign issue to use against Democrats in 2014.
- The bill includes a provision that requires that the salaries of representatives and senators be withheld if their respective house of Congress doesn't adopt a budget resolution this year. But the provision doesn't require that the two houses agree on a budget, just that each pass something of their own. No agreement on the budget resolution means that reconciliation-- the procedure used in the Senate to avoid a filibuster on spending cuts and revenue increases and, therefore, makes them more likely to happen -- can't be used because that can only happen pursuant to instructions in a...you guessed it...budget resolution agreement. Therefore, the House GOP forcing the Senate to pass a budget resolution means nothing.
In addition, budget resolutions themselves are largely meaningless because they only include totals rather than specifics. For example, projected lower Medicare spending could be the result of either legislated reductions in benefits or an assumption that the program will be operated more efficiently. Similarly, higher revenues could come from assumed higher economic growth or a legislated increase in rates.
The Senate's inability to pass a budget the past four years has been a main GOP talking point so it's not that surprising that this was the price House Republicans decided they should demand in exchange for surrendering on the debt ceiling. But given the reality of what a one-house passed budget resolution means, it's also not surprising that the White House is okay with the plan and the Senate is likely to go along. In reality, it's a free pass.
In other words, the House GOP really isn't getting anything for not fighting on the debt ceiling, and that's about as complete a surrender as you can imagine.