TOPICS > Politics

Debt Deal Stalemate Spills Into Weekend for Obama, Congress

July 22, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama blamed each other Friday over who's at fault for the latest breakdown in the debt-ceiling negotiations as an Aug. 2 deadline draws nearer. Kwame Holman reports on the continuing stalemate.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, the debt talks.

Just tonight, in a surprise, the speaker of the House, John Boehner, broke off negotiations with the president. And Mr. Obama made a rare late Friday appearance in the White House Briefing Room. The deadlock in Washington deepened after reports had suggested that an overarching agreement might be in the works.

NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman has our report on the day’s events

KWAME HOLMAN: Speaker John Boehner started the day by scotching any talk that a deal might be near.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio speaker of the House: There was no agreement, publicly, privately, never an agreement, and, frankly, not close to an agreement. And so, I would just suggest that it’s going to be a hot weekend here in Washington, D.C.

KWAME HOLMAN: It had been widely reported that the speaker and President Obama were making headway on a plan to save at least $3 trillion over the next decade.

The plan would involve an array of spending cuts, including curbs on Medicare and Medicaid. Adding new tax revenues to the mix apparently would wait until next year and negotiations on overall tax reform.

For any budget compromise to gain traction, the president likely will have to persuade Democrats at the Capitol, as well as his liberal base of supporters, to accept cuts in favored programs. And Democrats already are complaining strenuously that the president’s plan doesn’t appear to include any immediate increases in tax revenues.

Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders was among those voicing anger today.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, I-Vt.: I don’t think it’s going to be balanced at all. I think it will likely come down very heavily on the backs of the middle-class working families, the elderly, children, sick, and the poor. Sure, we want to move toward deficit reduction. But it’s not big deal, small deal. It’s a fair deal. It is shared sacrifice.

KWAME HOLMAN: And Justin Ruben, head of the liberal group MoveOn.org, denounced what he called a betrayal. In a statement last night, he said, “The Democratic base didn’t work night and day to elect Democrats so that they could cave to Tea Party extremists who are intent on gutting the social safety net.”

The deadline for avoiding national default is Aug. 2. And at a town hall meeting today at the University of Maryland, the president said he can’t let that happen, even if it means accepting choices he doesn’t like. But he also insisted again that taxes be part of the plan.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If we only did it with cuts, if we didn’t get any revenue to help close this gap between how much money is coming in and how much money is going out, then a lot of ordinary people would be hurt and the country as a whole would be hurt. And that doesn’t make any sense. It’s not fair.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, Senate Democrats quickly dispensed with a Republican plan calling for a balanced federal budget amendment to the Constitution. It passed the House earlier this week, but failed in the Senate 51-46.

Afterward, Majority Leader Harry Reid insisted the Senate will go no further until it sees the results of the president’s negotiations.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev. majority leader: There are talks going on between President Obama and Speaker Boehner. I wish them well. We await their efforts. From what I — I’m told there will be revenue measures in that. If that’s the case, we know, constitutionally, the matter must start in the House of Representatives.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Boehner fired back this afternoon from the floor of the House.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: The Senate majority leader says that they won’t offer a plan to cut spending or a plan to raise the debt limit. Frankly, that’s irresponsible.

Mr. Speaker, where’s their plan? President Obama talks about being the adult in the room. Where’s his plan to cut spending and to raise the debt limit?

KWAME HOLMAN: This evening, Boehner ended his negotiations with the president. He said in a letter to House Republicans that Mr. Obama still was too focused on raising taxes. He said he would try to negotiate instead with Senate leaders.

In turn, Mr. Obama had his own say in the White House Briefing Room.

BARACK OBAMA: I have been left at the altar now a couple of times. And I think that one of the questions that the Republican Party is going to have to ask itself is, can they say yes to anything?

KWAME HOLMAN: The president said he’s calling Democratic and Republican leaders to the White House tomorrow morning to seek a way forward.