The steam train of our economy continues on its merry way over the cliff's edge of default after a weekend of negotiations went nowhere. With proposals still wandering around the Capitol — one of which (hopefully!) will end up averting catastrophe — we decided to play oddsmaker on which elected official's leadership will save the American economy. (Treasury Secretary Jack Lew would have done the bookmaking, but he's spending a lot of time the phone. "No, it's in the mail." "What? We sent it last week. Weird.")
Rep. Paul Ryan
National Review's Robert Costa, journalistic Freud to the Republican psyche over the past several weeks, has suggested that Ryan has been positioning himself to step into a leadership position in the budget debate. The divide preventing resolution, as it has been from the beginning, has been between the Republican House and the Democratic Senate, the former of which has consistently pushed for concessions and the latter of which has consistently said, no, let's fund the government and raise the debt ceiling.
According to Costa's report on Monday, here's Paul's opening bid to split the difference:
In the House, budget chairman Paul Ryan’s allies tell me he’s leading the talks, and looking hard at a package that would extend the debt ceiling for six weeks and include a handful of conservative provisions, such as strengthening the eligibility requirements for Obamacare and an elimination of the federal contributions for congressional health-care plans. But this gambit is far from policy; it’s more of a contingency plan, should Republicans struggle to craft an alternative.
At this point it's worth noting that "saving the world economy" is a very low, very easily surmountable bar: raise the debt ceiling, avoid potential catastrophe. So Ryan's gambit here, as Costa notes, isn't meant to permanently fix any points of contention — it's literally meant to avoid that catastrophe by putting together something everyone can support as they hop that low bar.
So why the not-great, 10-to-1 odds? Because everyone can't support the proposal, as it will likely be introduced. On Twitter, Costa offered more detail on the "conservative provisions," which include the Vitter and Lankford amendments, both of which are poison pills for Democrats. (We'll get into those more below.) And Ryan's proposal echoes the Republican's prior offerings: The Democrats give something up, and catastrophe is avoided. Not spectacular progress.
But he's got huge incentive to make something work. (That incentive is called "2016.") And he has confidence from conservative leaders.
Paul Ryan emerging as real leader. Responsible, consistent and on top of big issues.— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) October 14, 2013
Sen. Lindsey Graham
Rep. James Lankford
Graham appears to have been reminded over the weekend that he is facing a conservative Republican primary opponent. He's not too vulnerable, but it seems he still decided he needed to establish his bona fides. And so, the prominent Republican senator is a new-found convert to the Vitter amendment.
The Vitter amendment, proposed by Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, simply removes the employer contribution for federal employees' health care plans. It is basically an attempt to force congressional staff to replicate the experience of being an individual using the Obamacare insurance exchanges: same plans, same out-of-pocket costs. The amendment has been excoriated by the conservative National Review, among others. But the soundbite — Make Congress subject to Obamacare! — is popular among conservatives. So not surprisingly, Graham is championing it. (No one on the Hill actually likes it, including John Boehner.)
And then there's the amendment from Oklahoma Republican James Lankford, which would impose mandatory spending cuts for every few months if no budget has been passed. The goal is to spur Congress to action on the budget. But as The Washington Post points out, that's hardly a disincentive for Republicans.
That's not a world in which there are "continued incentives for Congress and the President to reach agreement on regular appropriations bills." It's a world in which Republicans who want spending cuts have a continued incentive to refuse to reach agreement on bills to fund the government.
Don't think that's the case? In February, Boehner and the House Republicans tried their best to pin the "devastating" sequestration — comprised of similar mandatory cuts — on President Obama. By September, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor suggested that a sequestration-level budget at this point would mean Obama was "endorsing" such levels against the will of the Democrats.
Either Graham's or Lankford's advocacy could result in a deal. Neither is very likely at all.
Sen. Susan Collins
Collins, a Maine Republican, stepped to the forefront over the weekend, offering a bill similar to Ryan's proposal: an extension of the debt-ceiling, a delay on a tax on medical device manufacturers, income verification systems for those applying for insurance in the Obamacare exchanges, and a short-term resolution to fund the government. One of the sticking points was the length of that resolution: Democrats want one that lasts only until the middle of January, before the next round of sequestration cuts kicks in. Collins' proposal was rejected by Democrats.
But the other problem is that it's not clear Collins can carry something that works in the House as well. Which brings us to …
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
Vice President Joe Biden
There are two simple reasons that McConnell could play the role of savior on the debt. The first is that McConnell was one of the architects of the 2011 debt ceiling deal, along with Vice President Joe Biden. The second is that, as the highest-ranking Republican in the Senate, he is in a position of some influence over any final deal, as it would need at least some Senate Republican support for passage.
In the aftermath of the defeat of the Collins proposal, Politico reports that McConnell and Reid are "quietly meeting" (with their seconds, Sens. Alexander and Schumer) in an attempt to craft something that could work for all involved. Reid, for his part, has been trying to advance the Democratic position for weeks, so it seems likely that resolution is far more within McConnell's power.
As for Biden, Democrats (including Reid) weren't exactly thrilled with his work in 2011. Reid has reportedly been deliberate about keeping the VP on the sidelines. Over the weekend, Biden was at Camp David on vacation, apparently of his own volition. Republicans like John McCain would love to have him back; on Face the Nation, the senator suggested that Biden was in witness protection.
Update, 1:00 p.m.: We've amended Reid's odds after reports that he's driving a new proposal with McConnell.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
Given that the House is beholden to the whims of the Republican majority (and that that majority is beholden to the whims of its most conservative subsection), there's not much Pelosi can do to advance a debt ceiling increase. She has repeatedly pointed out to anyone who will listen, that nearly all of her 200-member caucus will vote to pass an increase to the debt ceiling and a funding bill. She's said that from Day One, of course, and it has repeatedly and aggressively been ignored. So it seems unlikely that she'll suddenly step into a position of prominence at this point.
Speaker of the House John Boehner
The odds here are simple. Even if Boehner crafts a package that garners support from every living Democrat and Republican, it would take an awful lot to become America's savior. It would be like giving an award for heroism to one of those pyromaniac firefighters even after you figured out why he always had so much gasoline in the bed of his truck. The very best Boehner can hope for at this point is not to be "on the other hand" example in discussions of speakers for any and all future political science classes.
President Barack Obama
Odds: no bets
The president gets to sign whatever bill comes out of the Congress, if any, so he gets to be the actual savior by default. No bets.
No deal is reached
A word to the wise: If you use these odds for any office pool or what-have-you, insist on receiving your winnings in cash. Maybe gold. If no deal is reached, you'll get 10-to-1 odds, but there may be no banks from which to draw checks.