Politicians last night announced the framework of a deal to increase the debt limit. In addition to authorizing about $900 billion more red ink right away, it would require immediate budget cuts of more than $900 billion, though "immediate" means over 10 years and "budget cuts" means spending still goes up (but not as fast as previously planned).
But that's the relatively uncontroversial part. The fighting we're seeing today revolves around a "super-committee" that's been created to find $1.5 trillion of additional "deficit reduction" over the next 10 years (based on Washington math, of course).
And much of the squabbling deals with whether the super-committee is a vehicle for higher taxes. As with all kiss-your-sister budget deals, both sides can point to something they like.
Here's what Republicans like:
The super-committee must use the "current law" baseline, which assumes that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts expire at the end of 2012. But why are GOPers happy about this, considering they want those tax cuts extended? For the simple reason that Democrats on the super-committee therefore can't use repeal of the "Bush tax cuts for the rich" as a revenue raiser.
Here's what Democrats like:
There appears to be nothing in the agreement to preclude the super-committee from meeting its $1.5 trillion target with tax revenue. The 2001 and 2003 tax legislation is not an option, but everything else is on the table (notwithstanding GOP claims that it is "impossible for Joint Committee to increase taxes").
In other words, there is a risk of tax hikes, just as I warned last week. Indeed, the five-step scenario I outlined last week needs to be modified because now a tax-hike deal would be "vital" to not only "protect" the nation from alleged default, but also to forestall the "brutal" sequester that might take place in the absence of an agreement.
But you don't have to believe me. Just read the fact sheet distributed by the White House, which is filled with class warfare rhetoric about "shared sacrifice."
This doesn't mean there will be tax increases, of course, and this doesn't mean Boehner and McConnell gave up more than Obama, Reid and Pelosi.
But as someone who assumes politicians will do the wrong thing whenever possible, it's always good to identify the worst-case scenario and then prepare to explain why it's not a good idea.