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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know on Counterplans

Updated: Dec 10, 2022

Rules on counterplans in parliamentary debate aren't flexible so much as liquid. For parli debaters, navigating these stormy seas can be tricky, hence this comprehensive guide on all things CP.


Whether on the east coast or west coast, there's a good chance you're going to go up against a counterplan. Run exclusively in policy cases, the rules surrounding CPs–and how to respond to them–vary largely depending on the region, tournament, judge, or even opponents.


This guide is designed to help clarify the different counterplan conventions and hopefully teach you a new strategy for next time you (or your opponents) run one.


First, let's take a look at what a counterplan even is, and how the opp would introduce it. Then, let's look at some common types of CPs that pop up on the flow. After that, it's important to learn the various methods of response for the gov when they're up against counterplans.


Finally, we'll get into some oddball counterplan rules and strategies, which is when the debate gets a little mushy.


We hope this guide is helpful for the next time your opponents are up to something a li'l shifty when it comes to CPs.


#1: What is a Counterplan?

#2: Types of Counterplans

#3: Gov Responses

#4: Oddball Practices


 

#1: What is a Counterplan?


First thing's first: there is no 'correct' way to run a CP. Typically, they exist exclusively in the policy case type of parliamentary debate as an opp strategy in the LOC (see our online parli course for more details.) Instead of the opp saying, 'there's no need for the plan,' they can say, 'we've got a better idea.'


For example, say gov introduces a harm saying that the sky should not be blue because it's not a pretty color. Their plan to solve the harm is to have aliens from Mars repaint the sky orange, a much better shade.


Meanwhile, opp could run a counterplan agreeing that there is a problem, but that subterranean lizard-people should paint the sky instead because the lizard-people are better artists and would do a better job.


That's a counterplan because opp agrees that there is a problem (the sky being blue), but that they fix the harms more effectively. Sometimes, counterplans avoid a major disadvantage (say the aliens from Mars were big polluters) or they have better solvency (maybe the lizard-people have more orange paint.)


Let's check out an example (for real, not with lizard-people.) This table only contains the taglines of the case.


Resolution: The USFG should implement carbon taxes on corporations.

Gov

Opp

Harm: climate change

Plan: Tax the amount of annual emissions from corporations

​Counterplan: Regulate the amount of emissions permitted from each company

Here, the opp is not arguing climate change does not exist. Rather, they have proposed an alternative to the gov's plan to fix the harm.


There are two "rules" (rules in quotes because they are almost never followed) which all counterplans adhere to:

  • Mutual exclusivity

OR

  • Non-topicality

Mutual exclusivity is the idea that the plan and the counterplan cannot happen in the same world. For example, if the gov team is to raise taxes, then the CP would be to lower taxes. These are mutually exclusive because it is physically impossible to both raise and lower taxes.


This is also helpful when it comes to perms (see below.)


Instead of being mutually exclusive, a CP can be non-topical, which is when the gov could not, under the scope of the resolution, have run the CP as their regular plan. For example, if the plan is to impose term limits on the Supreme Court, opp could instead propose elections for Supreme Court Justices. Theoretically, non-topical plans are not permeable (see below,) but pretty much always end up getting permed anyways.


To run a CP, opp should also introduce specific disads to the gov plan, as well as attacking the gov plan's solvency. After all, if the plan works and doesn't create any problems, there's no justification for a CP. In this way, opp explains why a CP is necessary and while their plan solves the harms more effectively than the gov.


#2: Types of Counterplans


However, counterplans don't have to be completely unique from the actual plan, like the example above. Sometimes, they are actually very similar to the plan.


One type of counterplan is a plan-inclusive counterplan. PICs do everything the plan does, but changes one thing. For instance, the lizard-people CP is an example of a PIC, because it agrees to paint the sky orange but would rather use lizards than Mars aliens.


Meanwhile, plan-exclusive counterplans do everything the plan does except one thing. If the plan is to allow Georgia and Armenia into NATO, then the PEC could be to only let Armenia in.


Note that both of these examples are mutually exclusive from the original plan.


There are other types of counterplans, such as agent counterplans (changing who enacts the plan.) For example, instead of having the US pass a plan, the state of Alabama could. Another form is a timeline counterplan – to do what the plan does, but change when. If the plan will take effect in 2040, a CP could move it up to 2030.


Another important thing to remember is that opp gives up presumption when it runs a counterplan. Think about it: opp no longer defends the status quo, since it is advocating for a new solution. Think carefully about the importance of running a CP before you plunge right in, since this is one of opp's most powerful weapons!


#3: Gov Responses


As the gov, there are two options for response:

  • Disadvantages

  • Perms

A perm, short for permutation, is when the government team adopts the CP as part of their own plan. For example, if the plan is to invade the US and the counterplan is to invade Canada, then the gov can perm the CP. That means gov now gets to argue for both invading the US and Canada.


Theoretically, if a CP is non-topical, it cannot be permed. However, most teams simply run a competitive perm, which is just fancy language for perming something that is non-topical.


Note: it is not possible to perm a mutually exclusive plan (which is why they are so effective CPs.) That would not make any sense.


Example perm:

Gov

​Opp

Harm: climate change

​​Plan: Tax the amount of annual emissions from corporations

​Counterplan: Regulate the amount of emissions permitted from each company

Perm: both regulate the amount corporations are allowed to emit and tax any emissions


On the other hand, say the opp CP is...not that great. In fact, you don't want to perm it because it's so problematic. In this case, it may be a better idea to simply argue against the CP and advocate for the adoption of the gov plan only.


Yes, this does mean that while the LO is speaking, gov should prepare disads to the CP on the fly. Scary, but definitely doable! Often, attacks on CPs are similar to what attacks on a traditional gov plan might look like. Here are two main ideas to keep in mind for disads:

  • The CP does more harm than good

  • The CP does not solve the original harm

For the rest of the debate, teams should be comparing their respective plans and explaining why they are better.


Note: do not attack a CP that you have permed. This is the equivalent of attacking your own plan.


So, what should opp do if their plan was permed? Well, they can argue that the gov plan is so flawed that the CP should be implemented separately. This is why it is important for opp to introduce disads to the gov's plan.


Example: The plan is to invade the US and the CP is to invade Canada. Say the gov perms the plan. Opp argues that there are too many disads to invading the US, and that only Canada should be invaded, thus defending the CP exclusively.


#4: Oddball Practices


Of course, rules in parli are rarely fixed. However, CPs tend to be the 'Wild West' zone of practices. A lot of these practices are borrowed from other debate forms, such as policy debate, somewhat explaining the mess. With each team essentially doing whatever they want in terms of perms, it can get pretty chaotic.


Here are some different ways that the government team can perm a counterplan:


Harm: my cat is unhappy

Plan: crown my cat king of the world

CP: give him all the cat treats in the world

Time-frame perm: do one plan, then the other. The order in particular creates solvency.

​Ex. First give him cat treats, then crown him king of the world after he has eaten them.

Intrinsic perm: do both of the plans + something else

​Ex. Crown him king and give him cat treats, but also give him all the cat toys in the world.

Severance perm: do all of the plan and parts of the CP

​Ex. Crown him king, but only give him a few cat treats.

As is imaginable, all these types of perms can get fairly confusing. Hence the general mushiness ensuing from anything but the most typical perm. Ask your opponents a POI and get clarification on what they are doing. While it is intimidating to face up against particularly unusual strategies, remember to focus on the argumentation rather than getting bogged down by structural confusion.


Last Words


Counterplans are a wonderful tool of the opp and create for a fascinating debate. Whether on the gov or the opp, it is important to understand the typical conventions surrounding CPs–and how to respond effectively when faced with a curveball.


Happy debating!





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