One of the big questions that will determine where things end up with the debt limit fight is whether House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, has enough votes to get his proposal through his chamber. At this point, that's far from clear, and that's to put it charitably.
“I’m as no as you can possibly be,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said outside the House floor this evening. “I did something I never thought I’d be able to do, and that’s vote to raise the debt ceiling. And that was contingent on sending a Balanced Budget Amendment to the states.”
Chaffetz said, “I want to see a Balanced Budget Amendment passed, and sent to the states. Not just voted on.”
Boehner's proposal calls for cutting discretionary spending, and then capping it for a total savings of $1.2 trillion over 10 years. But he has yet to release details about how much of the cuts are upfront, and how specific they are. That remains a central issue.
“I think the key is, what is the first year cut number?” Chaffetz said. “If you’re looking at your scorecards at home, the question is, what is the first year cut? And we still haven’t seen that number yet.”
He noted that even if the Boehner plan passed, it still wouldn't remove the risk of a credit downgrade, because it wouldn't deal with the underlying issue of the nation's unsustainable debt.
Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz, said it was fair to describe him as “skeptical” as he awaits details. He said he was specifically concerned that the numbers for 2012 would provide “more headroom for spending” than Rep. Paul Ryan's plan that the House voted on in April. He was also dismissive of Boehner's call for a new joint Congressional committee to find more savings.
“We don’t need another commission around here,” Flake said. “That’s just a classic way of punting the ball, and that’s something we don’t need to do.”
Others were more willing to give Boehner the benefit of the doubt as they awaited details.
“I to reserve judgment until I see the proposed legislative language,” Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Tex., also described himself as undecided.
“I think you have to have real spending cuts this year,” Barton said. “It can’t be in the out years. There has to be substantial progress this year.”
Though he was quick to add that he gives Boehner “credit for putting something out there that’s substantive, when the president is still talking in sound bites.”
There are 240 Republicans in the House, and Boehner needs 217 votes to secure passage (it's usually 218, but there are vacancies). This means he can afford the defections of just 23 Republicans before he starts to need Democrats to pass the bill. Of course, assuming it will have to be further compromised with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's bill to pass through the Senate, that would risk losing more Republicans, thus requiring more Democratic support to get past the finished line.
One wonders if Boehner unveiled this plan too early. Had he stood with Cut, Cap and Balance, and then waited for Reid to make a move first, that might have improved the chances of gaining support for his current plan as the eventual compromise.