A common negative strategy is to introduce a counter-proposal into the debate, called a “counterplan” (CP). Normally, the affirmative reads a plan advocating that a specific policy be passed, and the negative defends that the status quo is net better than the affirmative. However, when the negative introduces a counterplan, the debate shifts to whether the CP is better or worse than the plan. This might seem unnecessarily complicated, but can provide great strategic benefit. Often, the status quo is just bad: government policies are pretty messed up. Against an AFF that defends a plan saying the United States federal government ought to provide jobs to formerly incarcerated people, the negative’s position is far strengthened when they propose a different way to check back against recidivism and stigmatization than to try to argue that a minor harm to the economy outweighs structural racism. The CP can be thought of as sopping up AFF offense --- voting NEG doesn’t foreclose the possibility of solving the plan’s impacts because they can be solved in a different way while avoiding the disadvantage to the affirmative (a net benefit to the counterplan). Importantly, a counterplan by itself is often not enough to vote negative; there must be a “net-benefit,” or reason why the world of the counterplan is better. This comes in two forms: a disadvantage (external net-benefit) or internal net-benefit. A disadvantage is a reason why the plan is bad that the counterplan avoids. For example, a negative strategy against a plan to reduce intellectual property protections for medicine as a way to solve disease might include: a disadvantage about reducing intellectual property protections for medicines ceding important technology to China which destroys US hegemony and a counterplan to increase monitoring and tracking of disease outbreaks. The disease counterplan makes the AFF offense negligible since the world of the counterplan solves the same as the plan, but it avoids the disadvantage that is specific to intellectual property, so the world of the negative is net better. The other method of garnering offense is through an internal net-benefit. Very similar to a disadvantage, an internal net-benefit is an independent reason the counterplan is good. For example, say there’s a plan that uses Congress to pass a policy about a living wage. The negative could read a counterplan that says a living wage should be passed through an executive order instead of through Congress, with an argument that says this creates precedent for more executive flexibility, and executive flexibility is key to respond to a variety of existential threats. While this is not exactly a disadvantage to doing the affirmative, it is a reason why the counter-plan is net better, hence, net benefit.
There a few common types of counter-plans in debate.
Plan-inclusive counterplans (PICs) --- these types of counter-plans advocate for the majority the plan except for a small modification. For example, a PIC against a plan that says the United States federal government ought to recognize the unconditional right of workers to strike would say: CP --- the United States federal government ought to recognize the unconditional right of workers to strike except for police. The PIC would have an internal net-benefit saying that police use strikes to enact racist policies. This type of counter-plan is very strategic because it makes it very hard for the aff to leverage offense because CP is advocating for the entirety of the 1AC except for one little part.
Advantage counterplans --- advantage CPs attempt to solve an advantage from the affirmative. These counterplans are often not mutually exclusive, but instead compete based off of a disadvantage to doing the affirmative, and their sole purpose is to reduce aff offense. For example, against a plan for the US and China to eliminate their nuclear weapons with an advantage about communications vulnerabilities creating the possibility for miscalculation, an advantage counterplan might propose hotlines between the US and China. Hotlines are basically communication lines that can be used to deescalate a crisis and prevent miscalculation. This counterplan solves for the affirmative’s advantage, hence, advantage counterplan.
Process counterplans --- process CPs advocate for implementing the affirmative’s plan through a different mechanism. An example would be a plan that legalizes marijuana at the federal level, versus a counterplan to legalize marijuana at the state level.
Consult counterplans --- consult CPs say that the actor the plan should consult another country, group, or international mechanism. Common consult counterplans include: consult the EU, consult NATO, and consult the ICJ.
Delay counterplans --- delay CPs advocate for passing the plan at a later point in time, often with net-benefits about something happening in the status quo that is bad.
Agent counterplans --- agent CPs are very similar to process CPs, and say that a different agent should implement the plan. For example, if there’s a plan about the president passing an executive order to provide a living wage, an agent counterplan would say that the Supreme Court should instead create a precedent to raise the living wage (see CIL CP).
Uniqueness counterplans --- uniqueness CPs are a little more complicated. A uniqueness counterplan generates uniqueness for a disadvantage (similar to what the alternative does in a kritik). For example, if the affirmative proposes a plan to ban lethal autonomous weapons, the negative might read a disadvantage about lethal autonomous weapons being key to US hegemony. However, the uniqueness for this disadvantage (that the US currently has a lead in autonomous weapon development) might not be true, so the negative can counterplan to increase funding and investment in lethal autonomous weapon tech.
When responding to a counterplan, there’s a handy acronym, POST, that covers all the necessary components to respond. POST stands for:
P - permutation
O - offense
S - solvency deficit
T - theory
One of the integral parts of a counterplan is “competition.” There is no offense from a counterplan if it can be combined with the affirmative, because the two strategies are mutually compatible. A permutation tests this by making an argument that the plan can be combined with the counterplan. Importantly, the affirmative must make an argument that the permutation shields the link to the net benefit, meaning that the combination of the plan and the counterplan is able to resolve the disadvantage or net benefit from the counterplan. For example, if the affirmative reads a plan about the US federal government legalizing marijuana, and the negative reads a CP that state governments should legalize marijuana with a disadvantage about how federal marijuana legalization now will hurt Democratic chances in the midterm elections, and Democratic control is key to passing climate policy, the affirmative must then make an argument for how a permutation avoids the DA. This could be done by saying “permutation do both --- shields the link because state governments passing the plan means blowback isn’t attributed to Congress because they look like they’re just following on to what their constituents want.”
There are a few common types of permutations (perms):
Perm - do both: this permutation is very simple, saying that the best course of action is to enact both the plan and the permutation together.
Perm - do the counterplan: this permutation is often leveraged against process or agent CPs to say that the counterplan can be done as the affirmative.
There can be many other types of permutations, for example, permuting the plan and part of the CP, it just depends on how creative you get. However, there are a few types of permutations that are theoretically illegitimate:
Intrinsic --- intrinsic permutations add on something that was in neither the plan nor the CP. For example, the plan is that the United States federal government should implement a federal jobs guarantee. The negative reads a DA about how a federal jobs guarantee would hurt military recruitment, hurting US hegemony, causing war, and a CP to raise the living wage instead. An example of an intrinsic permutation could be: permutation - do both and have the US increase financial incentives to join the military. Since “financial incentives to join the military” was included in neither the plan nor the CP, this is intrinsic. This is bad because it allows the affirmative to fiat anything to get out of NEG disadvantages. To illustrate why intrinsic perms set a bad precedent, the AFF could say perm- do both and have all countries agree to never go to war. This is patently ridiculous (and cheating for multiple reasons), but shows why the affirmative should be limited to just parts of the plan and CP.
Severance --- severance permutations eliminate part of the plan. For example, if the plan is that the United States federal government should implement a federal jobs guarantee and the NEG reads a CP to provide a state jobs guarantee. If the affirmative says “permutation do the CP,” that’s severance because it’s jettisoning the “federal” part of jobs guarantee. Severance permutations are abusive because it prevents a stable advocacy for the negative to contest --- if the affirmative can just change the plan to get out of NEG arguments, it becomes impossible to be negative.
The next part of answering a counter-plan is to generate offense on the CP flow. Offense is just a reason why the CP is bad. So, for example, if the plan is for the United States to pass a federal jobs guarantee, the negative could read a disadvantage saying that passing the plan would negatively affect the ability to get some other current bill passed (for example, in 2022 it would be Build Back Better), and a CP to call a constitutional convention to amend the constitution to pass the plan, which avoids the disadvantage but still passes the plan. The affirmative could then read offense against this counterplan by making an argument that this causes a “runaway convention,” where it establishes precedent to amend the constitution and so people will continue amending it with terrible things.
Solvency deficits are the most important part of answering a counter-plan. Since the point of a counter-plan is to soak up AFF offense, if the NEG wins that the CP solves the impacts from case, it becomes incredibly hard to win because all of the plan’s offense is now solved in the world of the NEG. Solvency deficits contest that part of the counterplan by saying that the counter-plan is not able to solve case for x, y, and z reasons. For example, if the AFF reads a plan to pass compulsory voting with an advantage about how that will lead to policies to stop warming. If the NEG reads a CP to just pass a carbon tax, the AFF could make a solvency deficit by saying that a carbon tax doesn’t solve warming.
Finally, theoretical arguments are often used against counter-plans. The most common types of theory are arguments about the “status” of the counter-plan.
Status refers to when the NEG is allowed to “kick out of” or not go for the counter-plan. The 2N/AR does not go for every argument presented in the 1AC/NC because that would spread the final speech out too thin and prevent them from decisively winning the most important issue in the round. For example, if the 1NC reads 3 DAs, they will not go for all 3 DAs in the final speech, but instead choose one of them to explain thoroughly and argue why that is the most important and round-winning argument. In order to do this, the NEG must “kick” the other 2 DAs by conceding defense on them. While it seems anathema to concede an argument, a defensive argument on a flow that one is not going for cannot hurt the NEG in the round, so it instead becomes strategic. Once counter-plans are introduced into the debate, this process of kicking them becomes more contentious. Often the affirmative will say that the negative should not be able to kick out of counter-plans because it skews the 1AR’s time --- if the negative can introduce a new “world” into the debate (the counter-plan) and then just say they’re not going for it in the 2NR if it’s answered sufficiently hurts the affirmative’s time allocation because the 1AR now lost time. This is not the same with disadvantages because the affirmative can punish the NEG for reading many disadvantages with straight turns. However, the negative argues that they should be able to kick out of counter-plans with impunity because it tests the affirmative from multiple angles like in real life which leads to better education, and that kicking out of a counter-plan is no different from kicking out of a disadvantage or the affirmative collapsing to only one of the original advantages. Status thus refers to when the negative is allowed to kick out of counterplans. There are three different types:
Conditionality --- this says all counterplans are “conditional,” meaning that the negative is able to kick out of any of them in the final speech.
Dispositional --- this says that the negative may only kick out of a counterplan if the affirmative makes a certain set of arguments; for example, a common condition for dispositionality is that the negative may not kick out of the counterplan unless the affirmative makes a permutation.
Unconditional --- this says that the negative may not kick out of the counterplan at all, they read it in the 1NC and they’ll go for it in the 2NR.
In CX, it is always a good idea to ask what the status of the counterplan(s) is in order to determine whether or not to make a theory argument about the status. Conditionality is often regarded as the most abusive, and unconditional as the fairest.
In addition, there are a littany of common theory arguments pertaining to the function of the counterplan. For example, people will often argue that PICs, consult CPs, process CPs, and delay CPs are unfair.