As Jay Newton-Small argues, if we lived in a world where the teaparty didn’t exist, this wouldn’t be a good deal. But the teaparty does exist — at least for now — and when you look at things a little closer, some of this deal is pretty okay:
- The 2012 budget: At one point in the negotiations, the 2012 budget was to be slashed by $36 billion. The final number of cuts: just $7 billion. And just to ensure we don’t have another bruising government shutdown fight over cuts in September, the deal deems and passes the 2012 budget. Yes, that’s right, the old Gephardt Rule or Slaughter Solution, is back. What’s deem and pass? It’s a legislative trick that essentially means that Congress will consider the budget passed without ever actually having to vote on it.
- The trigger: This is counterintuitive, but the trigger is actually pretty good for Democrats. For all that MoveOn thinks that it would force benefit cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, it actually wouldn’t trigger benefit cuts to any entitlements. The only cuts it would force would be a 2% or more haircut for Medicare providers. And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, along with most Democrats, has never opposed provider cuts. Not only that, most progressives actually want the Pentagon cuts. So if the committee deadlocks and the trigger is pulled, Democrats won’t be miserable.
- The commission: Again, for all the liberal carping about a “Super Congress,” the commission of 12 members — three from each party in each chamber — set up to find the second phase of $1.5 trillion in cuts by Thanksgiving is actually rigged to force some revenue increases. Yes, the Bush tax cuts are off the table. But there are plenty of loopholes, subsidies and other corporate welfare programs that are on the table. And with such a strong trigger, it’s hard to imagine at least one Republican not voting to kill corporate jet subsidies over slashing $500 billion from the defense budget – even if the revenues aren’t offset. The question is: who are Republicans more afraid of, Grover Norquist or the joint chiefs? Democrats’ money is on the joint chiefs.
- The immediate cuts: It may seem like a lot, but the $917 billion in the first phase of cuts were carefully negotiated by Vice President Joe Biden and his group. They include $350 billion in Pentagon cuts – a win for liberals. They don’t touch entitlement benefits, another win. And they set top line numbers for the next decade of budgets that aren’t draconian. It still cuts where liberals might prefer to spend, but most of the savings are backloaded to avoid extreme austerity in next few years of fragile economic recovery. Just $7 billion would be cut in 2012, and only $3 billion in 2013. And of that combined $10 billion, half would come from the Pentagon. On top of that, the discretionary spending caps on budgets in future Congresses are subject to revision by those bodies.
- The debt ceiling: Raising the debt ceiling through 2013 will not be contingent on the second round of cuts. There will merely be a vote of disapproval. This avoids another messy fight in January and another round of painful forced cuts.
Maybe someday, say after the 2012 elections, the teaparty will be a bad memory. That’s something everyone can help make possible — if they just vote this time.