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6 Questions About What’s Happening With the Debt Ceiling, Answered

Negotiations between the House and Senate over the government shutdown and debt ceiling are moving faster than a cocktail server at the Tortilla Coast. Here’s an up-to-date explainer on what’s happening, what it means, and whether you should cash out your 401K and hide it in your mattress.

Do We Have a Deal?

Sounds like it! After a House GOP proposal fell apart late last night, the only viable option left was a Senate plan from earlier Tuesday. According to congressional sources, House Speaker John Boehner is going to let the bill through with Democratic votes, which means the hard-right caucus that has been the primary wrench in the gears for the past three weeks won’t be able to stop it:

As Talking Points Memo’s Sahil Kapur put it, “Game over.”

Do We Really Have a Deal?

Not quite yet. A (decreasing) number of things can still go wrong, chief among them being one Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), the commander of the defund strategy.

The Senate ordinarily requires thirty hours of post-cloture debate, which it can skip if it has the unanimous consent of the Senate. But unlike the House of Representatives, Senate rules allow proceedings to be halted by an individual member. Cruz alone could capsize that vote, causing thirty hours of debate on the vote for unanimous consent, and then another thirty after cloture. So all it would take is Cruz’s objection to add sixty hours to this process, pushing us over the October 17 debt ceiling deadline. (Business Insider’s Joshua Green has an excellent breakdown of all this here.)

Howevs! If the House votes on a deal first, this process is negated, and the bill needs only to pass a 60-vote threshold for cloture. At this point, I’m sure you don’t need to be told what can hold up a cloture motion, but it rhymes with illabuster. There are two types of filibusters. The silent one, which simply requires forty-one votes against cloture, has been the card up the Senate GOP’s sleeve for the past four years. But Senate Republicans are beyond disgusted with this entire debacle and want it over, now. It’s doubtful they’ll deny cloture; even this guy doesn’t want to:

The only move left is an actual talking filibuster. Does Cruz have it in him again?

UPDATE 12:35 p.m.: Cruz won’t hold up the vote. That seems to guarantee passage.

What’s in the Deal?

The deal would reopen the government and fund it at existing levels until January 15, raise the debt ceiling until early February, and allow the Treasury to continue using extraordinary measures to get around the borrowing limit. It would also require a bicameral conference to reach a budget deal by December 15, and amend the Affordable Care Act to require income verification for subsidies. Last, it would back-pay all furloughed federal workers. (Politico has more details here.)

That Sounds…Not Materially Different From What Could Have Been Passed Three Weeks Ago.

It’s not.

So Did We Go Through This Whole Thing For Nothing?

Yeah-huh.

Did the GOP Gain Anything?

This deal preserves sequester-level spending, a victory for Republicans who want to slash at the budget any way possible, though the budget conference will allow flexibility in easing the cuts. Republicans also gained in the income verification revision—a tiny concession compared to their demands to first defund and then delay Obamacare, and even compared to the repeal of the medical-device tax or the Vitter Amendment.

The House GOP’s plan that came together yesterday had a version of the Vitter Amendment in it, but the plan crumbled, in part due to lobbying from conservative groups. This left the Senate plan, with the smallest of concessions, as the only remaining option.

[Image via NYDN]

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