Breaking: Boehner, McConnell Announce Picks for Catfood Commission II

Politico has the names:

Speaker John Boehner has appointed Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) as the House GOP members of the panel.

Hensarling will be co-chairman of the committee. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also announced Wednesday the Senate Republican members: Jon Kyl of Arizona, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rob Portman of Ohio.

Politico says that Kyl, who is not running for reelection,

will likely be a conduit to McConnell to keep him apprised of the ongoing negotiations – as he did when he served as the lead Senate GOP negotiator during the unsuccessful budget talks led by Vice President Joe Biden this summer. Portman, a former White House budget director under George W. Bush and a freshman GOP senator, has been given increased responsibilities from the leadership, including earlier this year when he helped draft a GOP jobs initiative.

From CBS News Political Hotsheet:

In a statement, McConnell said the three senators he’s chosen understand the “gravity” of the current economic climate and will bring to the table “the kind of responsibility, creativity, and thoughtfulness that the moment requires.”

“The American people know that we cannot dig ourselves out of this situation by nibbling around the edges, and I am confident that each of these nominees can be counted on to propose solutions that put the interests of all Americans ahead of any one political party,” McConnell said.

Boehner said in a statement he appointed “proven leaders who have earned the trust and confidence of their colleagues and constituents.”

How very reassuring. The good news is that Boehner didn’t appoint either Paul Ryan or Eric Cantor–probably because he wants them to be reelected in 2012.

As we heard yesterday, Harry Reid has chosen Patty Murray (Washington), John Kerry (Massachusetts), and Max Baucus (Montana), with Murray to serve as co-chair. Nancy Pelosi has not yet announced her choices for the “super committee” AKA Catfood Commission II.

At FDL, David Dayen has some great comments on Harry Reid’s choices.

Patty Murray and John Kerry have defense industry ties, and as the head of the Finance Committee Baucus is no stranger to health care or tax lobbyists. But I don’t think you could find a Senator in the Democratic caucus without those ties. Then there’s this allusion to a stirring speech by John Kerry, which should immediately set off a BS detector:

A Democratic source told The Huffington Post that Kerry “made it into the discussion” of who should serve on the committee by delivering “some powerful speeches” to the rest of the caucus. The speeches, the source added, were in defense of Democratic Party priorities, focusing on the need to protect entitlement programs and Kerry’s desire to strongly push back against (what the source referred to as) “the right-wing agenda.”

That gives me a great idea to stall out the committee: have John Kerry give the opening speech.

Meanwhile, if Baucus is not liked for being parochial and sure to vote against any program that emerged, and given his performance during the health care debate, when he went into a room with a small bipartisan group and wasted four months not finding a solution, I’d say it was a great choice!

Please post any relevant background information you have on these Senators and Representatives in the comments.


The Latest Version of the Debt Ceiling/Austerity Bill

Some details are out on the debt bill that Harry Reid signed onto this afternoon. This plan apparently was worked out between the White House and Mitch McConnell–no Democrats involved. It doesn’t sound as extreme as previous versions, but we won’t know until everything plays out, I guess. Reid is hoping to hold a vote tonight so the House will have time to respond tomorrow.

Here is how the deal will work, reported by Brian Beutler:

It guarantees the debt limit will be hiked by $2.4 trillion. Immediately upon enactment of the plan, the Treasury will be granted $400 billion of new borrowing authority, after which President Obama will be allowed to extend the debt limit by $500 billion, subject to a vote of disapproval by Congress.

That initial $900 billion will be paired with $900 billion of discretionary spending cuts, first identified in a weeks-old bipartisan working group led by Vice President Joe Biden, which will be spread out over 10 years.

Obama will later be able to raise the debt limit by $1.5 trillion, again subject to a vote of disapproval by Congress.

That will be paired with the formation of a Congressional committee tasked with reducing deficits by a minimum of $1.2 trillion. That reduction can come from spending cuts, tax increases or a mixture thereof.

So McConnell has accepted the possibility of tax increases. I doubt if that is going to go over very well with Boehner and his Tea Party nutbags. The trigger is still in the bill.

If the committee fails to reach $1.2 trillion, it will trigger an automatic across the board spending cut, half from domestic spending, half from defense spending, of $1.5 trillion. The domestic cuts come from Medicare providers, but Medicaid and Social Security would be exempted. The enforcement mechanism carves out programs that help the poor and veterans as well.

Politico reports that at 7PM, John Boehner finally announced a conference call with House Republicans at 8:30, so it should be starting as I write this. Says Politico:

A quick strong Senate vote for the deal would add to the pressure on Boehner, and Reid went so far as to suggest that the Senate could even vote Sunday night: “Hope so” was his answer to reporters after meeting with Pelosi. But from the administration’s standpoint, no deal is meaningful without assurance of Republican support in the House, and that remained a big question mark going into the evening.

Boehner’s office insisted that it was simply waiting to hear back from the White House on some “bottom-line” provisions, and indeed details were still being resolved. But administration officials said privately that pro-defense House lawmakers were putting pressure on the speaker over the Pentagon’s share of reduced 2012 appropriations as well as further threatened defense cuts if the deficit-reduction targets are not met.

So there you have it, but what does it all mean? My immediate reaction to the smaller numbers and the assurances on Social Security and Medicaid is that it’s some kind of trick to get us thinking the austerity psychosis in the White House is letting up a bit. But they still have the “committee” AKA Catfood Commission II to fall back on.

I’ll update in the comments if I hear anything more. Please do likewise if you’re surfing around.


Today’s Deadline Passes With No Progress: Now What?

Late last night I wrote a post summarizing what happened yesterday in seemingly endless debt ceiling kabuki dance that is being staged for our benefit by people who are supposed to be serving us but instead answer to Wall Street, Big Oil, Big Pharma, and the rest of the filthy rich.

Last night John Boehner told House Republicans that they needed to show some progress today in order to calm the Asian markets. After weeks of assuming the politicians in Washington would work something out in order to keep the US from defaulting on its debts, the banksters were suddenly realizing there is a good chance the feckless “leaders” will just go ahead and let it happen.

Apparently both Democrats and Republicans see this debt ceiling debacle as a golden opportunity to strip Americans of what is left of their social safety net. The only disagreement seems to be that Democrats want to include a pretense of raising some revenue along with all the cuts to social programs and Republicans want no new revenue sources, apparently because they see an opportunity to bring Grover Norquist’s dream to fruition:

Norquist favors dramatically reducing the size of the government. He has been noted for his widely quoted quip: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

He has also stated, “Cutting the government in half in one generation is both an ambitious and reasonable goal. If we work hard we will accomplish this and more by 2025. Then the conservative movement can set a new goal. I have a recommendation: To cut government in half again by 2050”. The Americans for Tax Reform mission statement is “The government’s power to control one’s life derives from its power to tax. We believe that power should be minimized.”

So what was accomplished in today’s kabuki performance? Did the Republicans meet Boehner’s goal of sending a calming signal to Asian markets before their Monday opening. No, of course not.

From The New York Times: Deadline Passes as Debt Ceiling Talks Languish

House Speaker John A. Boehner and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, were preparing separate backup plans to raise the nation’s debt ceiling on Sunday, after the leaders were unable to end an increasingly grim standoff over the federal budget.

The dueling plans emerged as lawmakers appeared to miss a self-imposed deadline of 4 p.m. Eastern time to cut a deal before markets open in Asia. And at about 6 p.m., President Obama began meeting with Mr. Reid and the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, in the Oval Office to discuss the Reid proposal.

Not surprisingly, nothing new seems to have emerged from the talks at the White House. But here’s Harry Reid’s supposed “plan.”

Mr. Reid, the Senate’s top Democrat, was trying Sunday to cobble together a plan to raise the government’s debt limit by $2.4 trillion through the 2012 election, with spending cuts of about $2.5 trillion. He would seek to avoid cuts to entitlement programs, but it was unclear how those savings would be achieved.

Notably, the plan does not currently contain any new or increased taxes, an approach that many in his caucus would probably balk at.

For his part, John Boehner is still blabbing on about the Republicans ridiculous “cut, cap, and balance” plan.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told his colleagues in a Sunday afternoon conference call that a debt deal with Obama is not the way forward. He said on the call that a plan that “reflects the principles” of the conservative “Cut, Cap and Balance” proposal that the Senate rejected will serve as the model for any legislation coming out of the House. The speaker, though, did acknowledge that the plan itself is a non-starter.

“So the question becomes – if it’s not the Cut, Cap and Balance Act itself – what can we pass that will protect our country from what the president is trying to orchestrate,” Boehner said, according to a source familiar with the call.

Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), according to several sources on the call, implored his colleagues to “stick together” to enact a budget deal that they can support. Boehner said an agreement “will require some of you to make sacrifices.” He told his colleagues that they shouldn’t worry about winning the battles, but rather the war, according to a source on the call.

I found this piece at Huffpo helpful, although I’ve never heard of the author, Mohamed el-Erian. CEO and co-CIO, Pacific Investment Management Company. Perhaps Daknikat has? Here’s what he had to say after the supposed deadline passed without any progress.

Friday’s stunning and very public quarrel between the president and the Speaker of the House of Representatives was the catalyst for a weekend of frantic negotiations on how to increase America’s debt ceiling, maintain the country’s sacred AAA rating, and avoid a near-term default. Meanwhile, administration officials and members of Congress took to the airwaves on Sunday trying, but largely failing, to strike the balance between statesmanship and another round of the Washington blame game.

It was hoped that all this would serve as a prelude to a political compromise announced just before the opening of Asian markets. This did not materialize. But while another self-imposed deadline has been missed, it is likely that the nation’s leadership will stumble into a short-term compromise over the next few days — one that raises the debt ceiling and avoids a debt default but, importantly, leaves the AAA rating extremely vulnerable and does little to lift the damaging clouds hanging over the US economy.

It will come down to the wire; and when the stopgap compromise is reached, many in Washington will declare victory and, in the process, claim credit for averting a national disaster. Yet the resolution will likely be temporary, and the damage will be real and long-lasting — both of which render an already worrisome situation even more difficult going forward. Indeed, by illustrating so vividly to the whole world what is ailing America, the weekend’s political theatrics should make us all worry even more about the world’s largest economy.

It’s an interesting article. Obviously our “leaders” have already done immense damage to our struggling economy, not just with their wrongheaded policies, but also with their childish game-playing.

Boehner’s plan right now seems to be to insist on a short-term temporary increase in the debt limit of about $1 trillion

accompanied by spending cuts of at least as much, tying the remainder of the debt-ceiling increase Obama has requested to further cuts in the future. The White House says Obama would veto such a measure.

The markets responded quickly:

U.S. stock futures fell, indicating the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index will slump after rallying within 1.4 percent of a three-year high, as failure to raise the federal debt limit intensified concern of a default.

The contract on the S&P 500 Index expiring in September declined 1.2 percent to 1,325.50 at 7:01 a.m. in Tokyo. The U.S. dollar fell against the euro, yen and Swiss franc.

[….]

The dollar weakened to $1.4390 per euro as of 6:01 a.m. in Tokyo from $1.4360 in New York at the end of last week. The greenback fell to 78.35 yen, and touched a four-month low of 78.12 yen, from 78.54 on July 22. It fetched 81.17 Swiss centimes from 81.92 last week after reaching a record low 80.33 on July 18. The yen traded at 112.75 per euro from 112.77.

I don’t pretend to understand all that gibberish, but I know it isn’t good.

The Wall Street Journal says the markets are “bracing for volatility as debt ceiling debate drags on.”

What really scares me is what is going on behind all the “partisan” kabuki. Let’s face it, Democrats are no more our friends than Republicans at this point. We simply can’t trust any of them. I wrote a few days ago about the Catfood Commission II clause that is included in the so-called McConnell plan–the fallback plan that Harry Reid is on board with. Apparently Boehner has also latched onto this idea, and the sequel to the Catfood Commission will also be included in whatever legislation the Republicans come up with.

Ryan Grim has a piece in Huffpo today about Catfood Commission II, which he characterizes as a “Super Congress.”

Debt ceiling negotiators think they’ve hit on a solution to address the debt ceiling impasse and the public’s unwillingness to let go of benefits such as Medicare and Social Security that have been earned over a lifetime of work: Create a new Congress.

This “Super Congress,” composed of members of both chambers and both parties, isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Constitution, but would be granted extraordinary new powers. Under a plan put forth by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his counterpart Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), legislation to lift the debt ceiling would be accompanied by the creation of a 12-member panel made up of 12 lawmakers — six from each chamber and six from each party.

Legislation approved by the Super Congress — which some on Capitol Hill are calling the “super committee” — would then be fast-tracked through both chambers, where it couldn’t be amended by simple, regular lawmakers, who’d have the ability only to cast an up or down vote. With the weight of both leaderships behind it, a product originated by the Super Congress would have a strong chance of moving through the little Congress and quickly becoming law. A Super Congress would be less accountable than the system that exists today, and would find it easier to strip the public of popular benefits. Negotiators are currently considering cutting the mortgage deduction and tax credits for retirement savings, for instance, extremely popular policies that would be difficult to slice up using the traditional legislative process.

So basically, no matter what legislation Congress ends up passing to raise the debt ceiling, this “Super Congress” will be included. We certainly can’t expect any disagreement on this from Obama who, as Grim describes it “has shown himself to be a fan of the commission approach to cutting social programs and entitlements.”

We are so utterly f&cked.


McConnell-Reid Debt Plan Includes Catfood Commission II with Teeth

Since Harry Reid is now on board, it’s looking more and more likely that the so-called “McConnell Plan” is the one the villagers favor in order to get the debt ceiling raised. Naturally, that is the plan that will allow Republicans to blame the President for raising the debt ceiling while continuing to procrastinate on dealing with the deficit. From ABC News:

This proposal has not yet been the subject of a lot of interest by House Republicans, but there are signs it may be gaining “traction,” according to a report today in the Wall Street Journal. “What is emerging as the most likely outcome is a plan based on Messrs. McConnell and Reid’s work, a Democratic official familiar with negotiations said,” the Journal’s Carol E. Lee and Janet Hook report. “It would include roughly $1 trillion in deficit reduction, but would not come with tax increases or Medicare savings, the official said. It could include an extension of unemployment insurance, the official said, which costs $40 billion and would be offset by spending cuts.” http://on.wsj.com/p3l6u3

The problem for us ordinary citizens who have to live with whatever Congress decides, is that McConnell’s plan includes the establishment of a sequel to the Catfood Commission that is scarier than the first one.

The McConnell Plan: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would allow the debt ceiling to be raised by the president, with Congress voting disapprovingly three times before the 2012 election. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and McConnell are talking about creating a deficit commission that, like the base closing commission, would issue legislation that would be voted on up or down. They’re also discussing attaching spending cuts to the plan.

Greg Sargent quotes {shudder} Larry Kudlow on what the new Catfood Commission would be able to do.

Larry Kudlow, who’s plugged in with Congressional Republicans, scoops a key new detail about the emerging Mitch McConnell proposal to transfer control of the debt ceiling to the president:

McConnell is negotiating now with Sen. Harry Reid for a large-scale package that will allow the debt ceiling to rise unless overturned by a two-thirds vote. If a White House debt-ceiling deal comes through with $1.5 trillion of spending cuts, that will be part of the package. Right now, it’s not completed because enforceable spending caps have not been determined.

The key part of the new McConnell package is a joint committee to review entitlements in a massive deficit-reduction package. Unlike the Bowles-Simpson commission, this committee will be mandated to have a legislative outcome — an actual vote — that will occur early next year. No White House members. Evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. No outsiders. This will be the first time such a study would have an expedited procedure mandated with no amendments permitted. Also, tax reform could be air-dropped into this committee’s report.

A source with knowledge of the emerging proposal confirms to me that while nothing has been finalized, this is where the discussions are headed.

If I’m reading this right, what this means is that in order to make the McConnell proposal more palatable to conservatives, there would be a mandated bipartisan review of entitlements next year. The source tells me that if a majority of the committee can agree on recommendations for entitlement reform, the proposal would also mandate a Congressional vote on those recommendations.

So efforts to gut Social Security and Medicare will be postponed, but far from dead. And Congress will have to take up or down votes on the Catfood legislation–meaning no amendments permitted. We are so F’d.