What are they talking about?

Something about the debt limit “discussions” in Washington reminds us of a scene in Meredith Wilson’s MUSIC MAN in which the town biddies, replete in their feathered bonnets, get into a full-blown gossip fest about the morals of Marian Paroo, the town librarian and the target of con man Harold Hill. The movie shows the ladies huddling around, feathered hats bobbing, and chattering, intercut with a flock of chickens milling around in the chicken yard.

Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little,
cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more
Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little,
cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more
Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little,
Cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep
Cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep
Cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep
Pick a little, talk a little, cheep!

Just what are the differences that is producing all of the finger-pointing, and posturing, (cheep, cheep, cheeping) and deadlock in Washington about the debt ceiling and the national deficit?

House Republicans want three trillion dollars in cuts. Senate Democrats propose $2.7 trillion in cuts.

The Boehner (GOP) plan would raise the debt ceiling by one trillion dollars by August 2 with $1.2 trillion in cuts to discretionary spending spread through ten years. A second increase in the debt ceiling would total 1.6 trillion dollars that would cover borrowing for another fiscal year. But that second increase would not be effective unless Congress cuts another $1.8 trillion in federal spending.

Contrasting that is the Reid (D) plan that would raise the debt ceiling in one step with $1.2 trillion in cuts to discretionary spending through ten years plan additional cuts of $1.5 trillion.

That’s the $3 trillion versus $2.7 trillion in cuts.

But it’s in the details of those cuts where the trouble lies.

The Boehner plan says further cuts could be from any part of the budget, including Medicare and other benefit programs and in the tax code. Automatic cuts would be triggered if spending exceeds set levels.

The Reid plan rejects any cuts in Medicare and Social security and other major benefit programs. Reid also thinks $1 trillion could be saved as the wars wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan (Republicans agree on that point). Reid also figures a reduction in borrowing because of the proposed $2.7 billion in cuts would mean the federal government would pay $400 billion less in interest on the debt. He also says better tax enforcement, reduction of fraud, reforms of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, reducing crop subsidies, and selling parts of the “electromagnetic spectrum” would total $100 million in increased federal income without raising taxes. The “electromagnetic spectrum” is a scientific term that covers all kinds of things but in this case probably refers to the frequencies used by radio and television stations, microwaves, and so forth.

Neither plan raises taxes.

Both plans establish a bipartisan joint House/Senate committee to find other savings and the findings would get a straight yes or no vote by the end of the year.

Boehner wants a yes or no vote on a federal balanced budget amendment to the constitution. The House does not address that issue.

Missouri, by the way, does have a constitutional requirement that the state budget be balanced. The provision has forced the governor and the legislature to make a lot of cuts and withholdings in the last few years but it also has kept Missouri from having the horrendous debt problems we hear several other states having—and that the federal government is wrestling with.

Thanks to McClatchy Newspapers and the Post-Dispatch for the chart in this morning’s paper. It doesn’t just give readers an outline of the differences. It also offers readers a chance to look at the issues shorn of heated cheeping and ask themselves how they would find a middle ground to solve a problem those we have elected seem unable to find.

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