Comparing The Plans In The Debt Debate

The politics of the latest twists and turns in the debt debate.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

OK. With us now, for some analysis of this standoff, is NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So, help us understand how far apart the two sides really are at this point. I mean, first of all, both the Democrat and the Republican plans would make spending cuts. Are they in agreement on what should be cut?

LIASSON: Well, not completely. They are in agreement on some things that should be cut: the $1.5 trillion or so of cuts that the Biden negotiating group identified. But they are on two different timelines. The House Republican plan would take two bites at this apple. Harry Reid's plan would get it done all in one vote. Harry Reid also counts a trillion dollars in cuts for ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Republicans consider that a gimmick.

But the most important thing to say about both of these plans is that both of them kick the can down the road, because neither of them make big structural changes in entitlements or do tax reform.

KELLY: You know, there was a point, toward the end of last week, where it actually looked as though the president and Speaker Boehner were close to some sort of comprehensive deal. Is that now completely dead?

LIASSON: Well, it's certainly dead for the moment, although since every single bipartisan commission that's looked at this has come up with basically the same kind of plan, like the grand bargain that the speaker and the president were looking at, it seems like in the end, whenever that is in the future, that's pretty much what the bargain will be.

But last night, the country heard two political speeches laying blame, not searching for compromise with each other or laying out any new solutions, both leaders just restated their cases. And I don't know if that's what Americans expected to hear when they heard the president was giving an unusual nighttime televised address.

KELLY: Yeah, as you say, they both restated their cases and it sounds as though after all these weeks of dueling and standoffs, they're still where they were. The president still wants some sort of grand bargain. Speaker Boehner and House Republicans have already walked away from that time, several times already.

LIASSON: That's right. The president is still advocating for that big deal. He even invoked Ronald Reagan last night. He asked people, just like Ronald Reagan used to do, to call their members of Congress. And back in the Reagan days the switchboards would light up when the president did that. It's not clear what the response was, although there were reports that the Website of Boehner's capital office crashed last night.

But divided government only works if there's a will to make grand bargains, or even little bargains. And last night, it seems like no bargain is anywhere in sight. Speaker Boehner may not even have the support in his own caucus, yet, for his plan. Many conservatives are rejecting it for not going far enough. And Harry Reid's plan doesn't look like it has anywhere near the 60 votes it needs to pass the Senate.

KELLY: So is it I mean, can you even say at this point, who seems to be winning this fight after all these weeks?

LIASSON: Well, on substance you'd have to say the Republicans. Each time that they've laid down the demand, they've prevailed. First, when the president wanted a clean debt ceiling bill, they said no. They said it had to be linked to spending cuts, they won on that. Then they wanted dollar for dollar cuts for the amount they were raising the debt ceiling by. They got that. Now, in this latest iteration, they're demand that the bills contain no revenues, that seems to be prevailing, neither the Reid Plan or The Boehner Plan has any revenues. But, Republicans have paid a big price for this in the polls. Their numbers are much worse than the president on these issues. The president, on the other hand, seems to be winning the argument, but maybe not the debate. The polls show that the American people prefer his approach, his balanced approach that include tax hikes on the wealthy, but that doesn't seem to be giving him any leverage with Republicans in Washington.

KELLY: Yeah, I mean, as you say, the President Obama said last night, Americans are fed up. Are our voters going to hold one side more responsible than other, do you think? And weve only got a few more seconds left.

LIASSON: Well, polls show that more people would blame the Republicans if there's s a default, but I think that may be misleading. Republicans might get the blame, but it I think the president will be punished because he needed the deal the most. If there's a downgrade of U.S. government credit rating, which seems likelier than ever now, the damage to the economy will be damage, politically, to him.

KELLY: Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

KELLY: That's NPR National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson.

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