Two speeches, one really big exercise in persuasion, and seven days remaining

Two televised speeches later, no closer to a debt limit compromise.

Taking his case to America in prime time, President Obama on July 25 urged Americans to tell their members of Congress their views about the current debt negotiations, and many apparently did so. Telephone circuits at the House of Representatives were overwhelmed for a time today (Tuesday), due to a large volume of calls from people weighing in with their elected representatives. According to CBS News, multiple congressional websites experienced temporary outages on Monday night after the speeches of Mr. Obama and House Speaker John Boehner.

From the President’s speech: "The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn't vote for a dysfunctional government. So I'm asking you all to make your voice heard. If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your Member of Congress know. If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message."

So one part of the sales pitch appeared to work: people listened to the speeches and many responded. But the bigger exercise in persuasion is to draw congressional votes toward one plan or another, and it is not clear that either plan can gain enough votes to pass.

Speaker Boehner is still working to persuade the House Republican Caucus to vote for his proposal. His plan, in brief, would immediately cut and cap spending by $1.6 trillion over 10 years and raise the debt ceiling by $1 trillion to get through February, 2012. It would create a new congressional commission to reduce spending by an additional $1.8 trillion over 10 years (and cuts would fall heavily on Medicare/Medicaid/Social Security). If the commission’s proposal were adopted, the President could request a second increase to the debt ceiling of $1.6 trillion. The plan would require a vote on a balanced budget amendment by October 1, 2011. No revenue options are included.

The freshmen and fiscal conservatives who are most at odds with the Speaker’s proposal have several concerns. They want a balanced budget amendment guarantee, not just the guarantee of a vote. In addition, some feel the initial round of spending cuts is too low, and others don’t trust that the new commission will effectively slash spending.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is offering a plan that is similar in several respects to that of Speaker Boehner. It would include $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending cuts over 10 years, with [an additional] $1.5 trillion in savings in non-discretionary spending. It includes spending cuts that were agreed upon between the President and House Republicans before those talks broke down. Reid’s plan would also establish a new congressional commission to identify options for future deficit reduction, and it includes no increase in revenue. The primary difference is that this plan provides a one-time debt limit increase large enough to see the government through 2012. And some Republicans, e.g. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have attacked the identified non-discretionary savings as “gimmicks.” President Obama is urging Congress to support the Reid plan. Most Democrats will likely hold their nose and vote for it, but a few defections are likely. The President has urged a quick vote, since time must be reserved for a fallback plan (Senator McConnell’s or another) if the two main party proposals fail.