WASHINGTON -- Democratic Senate leadership is preparing to introduce a compromise debt ceiling bill to the floor as early as the end of this week, in hopes of getting something through the legislative process before the Aug. 2 deadline to raise the country's debt limit or risk default.
The plan, according to a top Senate Democratic aide, is to wait until both chambers vote on the cap, cut and balance measure, which would slash federal spending, tie it to a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, and secure a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. That measure, preferred by conservatives, is expected to pass the House of Representatives before likely falling short of the votes needed in the Senate. Once that process is done, the aide said, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will start consideration on the debt-ceiling proposal hatched by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), which would give the president the authority to raise the debt ceiling while vetoing corresponding, commensurate spending cuts.
"Plan B could be ready to move on the floor by the middle of this week," the aide said. "But that action on it probably will not occur till after the Balanced Budget vote."
Such a legislative timeframe is considered optimal, though President Obama has stressed that he wants a bill introduced and agreed upon by July 22. A GOP leadership aide cautioned, "Wednesday and Thursday would be awfully early to go to this last resort."
"At this point it is just unclear," the GOP aide added, "none of that is locked in stone."
Also unclear is what the final Plan B might include. Negotiators are still contemplating whether to attach $1.5 trillion or so in agreed-upon discretionary and mandatory spending cuts to the initial Senate-considered package, or to let House Republicans add those cuts when the legislation gets to them. Letting cuts fall to the House could provide members with the sense that they've pulled the bill in their own direction.
There are also questions over what a final compromise might include, specifically whether a deficit-reduction commission would result from its passage.
Such a commission, currently, is set to have twelve members. It would be tasked with reporting out a set of recommendations by the end of 2011. Provided that a majority of its members agreed on the final product, its suggestions would then be fast-tracked (meaning no amendments allowed) to a vote in each chamber of Congress. Whether members of the commission would be able to suggest revenue and tax changes as a deficit-reduction vehicle, however, has not yet been determined.
Further clouding speculation about a final "Plan B" are the continuing talks between House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Obama about a potential grand bargain on the debt ceiling -- a package that would include roughly $3 trillion in cuts and entitlement reforms, in addition to an increase of $800 billion in revenues. The White House has stressed that this is the administration's preferred option. Boehner backed away from it more than a week ago, but reports surfaced this weekend that those discussions weren't entirely closed off.
"That is still happening," the Senate Democratic aide said of the grand bargain talks. "The House is in the loop. They are aware of it. They are being apprised at all times of what we are working on. But they have yet to commit to [Plan B] or any other plan that could actually pass. They are continuing to focus on the cut cap and balance for now."