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Dueling debt-ceiling plans: Can either pass Congress?

House Republicans and Senate Democrats introduced their plans to resolve the debt-ceiling impasse before Aug. 2. But bipartisan hopes appear thin.

By Staff writer / July 25, 2011

House majority meader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington Monday to criticize President Obama and congressional Democrats for their debt-ceiling plans. (AP Photo/)

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Washington

With eight days before the US loses its authority to borrow funds, House and Senate leaders launched dueling plans to resolve the crisis.

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Both deliberately avoid calls to raise taxes – a nonstarter for Republicans that derailed previous bids at a solution. But neither plan can yet claim a clear or even likely path to a bipartisan majority.

“What they have in common is that neither one is likely to pass – even its own house,” says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. “Here’s a case where you really do need a bipartisan agreement, and there’s no bipartisanship left.

The Republican plan

The House Republican plan, introduced on Monday by Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio, promises $3 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, spending caps, and the promise of a vote on a balanced-budget amendment. It’s a softer version of the "cut, cap, and balance" plan that passed the House on a near party-line vote July 19 but went nowhere in the Senate.

The plan also provides an expedited track for the president to request a hike in the debt limit to be implemented in two stages. A first step calls for Congress to pass $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, allowing the president to request a $1 trillion hike in the debt ceiling. The request would be deemed passed unless Congress votes a resolution of disapproval – a procedure first proposed by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

This expedited procedure allows Congress to raise the debt limit with only a third plus one votes in either the House or Senate, the threshold for sustaining a presidential veto – saving many lawmakers a difficult, but necessary vote.

The next stage empowers a new legislative commission – six Republicans and eight Democrats – to find an additional $1.8 trillion in spending cuts, that would include cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, which is a nonstarter for Democrats. If passed, this second-stage vote also opens the door to a presidential request to raise the debt ceiling through 2012, also on a fast track.

Finally, the GOP plan requires a vote in both the House and Senate on a balanced-budget amendment to the US Constitution. The House GOP’s cut, cap, and balance measure set a higher threshold – requiring that Congress pass a balanced budget amendment and send it on to the states for ratification.

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