House vs. Senate on the Debt Ceiling

Speaker of the House John Boehner's bill to raise the debt ceiling passed Friday night. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's plan will be voted on Saturday night. What are the similarities and differences between the plans?


Both plans would save about the same amount of money over ten years. The Reid bill would save $909 billion. The Boehner bill (including the July 29 changes) would save $917 billion.

Both plans would cut about the same amount (about $1 trillion) from the 2012 and 2013 budgets (the only budgets that this Congress has any real authority over). (This does not include Reid's “war savings,” see below.)

Both plans create a super-committee – a bipartisan committee of 12 members from both houses – to come up with a bill that reforms taxes and entitlements (Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security). Both houses would be required to vote on whatever bill the committee came up with.

Both plans cap discretionary (non-entitlement) spending. The caps rise with inflation after 2014.


Reid's plan assumes a drawdown of United States' forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to save $1.2 trillion. These savings are not included in Boehner's bill. House Republicans are calling this part of Reid's bill a “gimmick” because troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan will save money regardless of which bill is passed.

The Reid plan would raise the debt ceiling enough to get past the 2012 election in a single vote – a one-step process. The Boehner plan would require a two-step process – a small debt limit increase now, a large debt limit increase later which would be tied to the super-committee bill.

Under Reid's plan, there would be no consequences if Congress did not pass the super-committee bill. Under Boehner's plan, the second debt ceiling increase would come after passage of the super-committee bill. If Congress did not pass the super-committee bill, it would have to find another way to raise the debt ceiling.

After Boehner failed to get enough votes to pass his bill in the House on Thursday, he added a balanced budget amendment requirement to the bill in order to get more Republicans to support it. This requirement helped Boehner get the votes he needed to pass the House. It also made it less likely to pass the Senate.

The House passed the bill (218-210) Friday night. Twenty-two Republicans voted no along with every Democrat. The Senate will vote on the Reid bill Saturday night, sometime after midnight.


The bills are not that far apart in spending cuts, which suggests that the parties are closer to a compromise than public rhetoric would suggest.

Democrats argue that the Reid bill is better because all of the uncertainty produced by the two-step process in Boehner's bill would be bad for the economy. Republicans argue that the Boehner bill would be better because it would force Congress to make tough choices on entitlement reform.

Tea Party Republicans do not like either bill. They do not like the Reid bill because it does not do enough to reform Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. They do not like the Boehner bill because the super-committee could include tax increases.

Before this week, the differences between Republicans and Democrats appeared to be over tax increases. Republicans said they would not support a plan that increased taxes (even if it came from eliminating deductions, rather than increasing tax rates). Democrats said that they would not support a plan that did not include some tax increases (which could come from eliminating deductions). Ironically, the Reid bill, supported by Democrats, has no tax increases and the Boehner bill, supported by Republicans, most likely would increase taxes (by eliminating deductions) through the super-committee bill.

What the current debate shows, therefore, is that having a one-step process versus a two-step process is more important to the parties right now than whether or not tax increases are included in the bill.

The current debate also suggests that one of the most difficult parts of passing a bill will be getting past all the animosity members of each party have for each other. Republicans do not want to vote for a bill supported by Democrats and Democrats do not want to vote for a bill supported by Republicans.

This point was made by Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) when he explained his support for Boehner's bill via Twitter, saying, “Boehner Plan is not a perfect bill. However, the fact Pelosi, Reid and Obama hate it doggone makes it perfect enough – where is their plan?”

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