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White House Debt Ceiling Authority Demand Roils Senate Republicans

December 6, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Though talks progressed as President Obama and House Speaker Boehner spoke on the phone, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the White House would be willing to go over the fiscal cliff if Republicans refused a tax rate hike. The president roiled tempers on Capitol Hill over debt ceiling authority. Judy Woodruff reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: With 25 days left until the year-end fiscal cliff, and just 19 days until Christmas, President Obama warned lawmakers today not to add to the holiday pressures Americans already feel by letting the political stalemate drag on.

But he also, again, insisted there would be no deal unless tax rates went up on the wealthy.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The closer it gets to the brink, the more stressed they’re going to be.

JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama made the short trip to Northern Virginia today to underline his plan to avert the fiscal cliff. At the home of what the White House called a typical middle-class family, Mr. Obama said he’s optimistic that agreement can be reached, but again drew a hard line for Republicans in Congress.

BARACK OBAMA: Everybody’s is going to have to share in some sacrifice. But it starts with folks who are in the best position to sacrifice, who are in the best position to do a little bit more, to step up. And that’s what my plan does.

So, just to be clear, I’m not going to sign any package that somehow prevents the top rate from going up for folks at the top 2 percent.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president phoned House Speaker John Boehner yesterday, their first direct talk in almost a week. But, today, White House spokesman Jay Carney wouldn’t share details of the call.

JAY CARNEY, White House: We believe it’s in the interest of achieving an agreement not to do that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said yesterday the White House was absolutely willing to go over the cliff if Republicans held firm in their opposition to raising rates on the wealthy.

But it was the administration’s other demand, to give the president authority over the nation’s debt ceiling, that roiled tempers on Capitol Hill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tried yesterday to force a vote on the issue, assuming Republicans would prevail.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: Look, the only way we ever cut spending around here is by using the debate over the debt limit to do it. Now the president wants to remove that spur to cut altogether. Of course, it gets in the way of his spending plans. Well, I assure you, it’s not going to happen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But when Majority Leader Harry Reid took him up on the offer today, McConnell backed down.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: This morning, the Republican leader asked consent to have a vote on this proposal. Just now, I told everyone that we’re willing to have that vote, up-or-down vote. And now the Republican leader objects to his own idea.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meantime, Republicans learned today the party is losing one of their most outspoken voices on fiscal issues. Two-term South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint announced that he will resign his seat in January to become the next president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.

In a statement, DeMint said: “I’m leaving the Senate now, but I’m not leaving the fight,” adding he’s going to Heritage “at a time when the conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas.”

A tea party favorite, DeMint had blasted the House Republicans’ proposal to raise revenue earlier in the week. South Carolina’s other senator, Lindsey Graham, lamented the loss of his colleague.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: He really did strongly and passionately advocate for his positions and did it very effectively. Jim made the Republican Party, quite frankly, look inward and do some self-evaluation. Conservatism is an asset, not a liability.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The other side of Capitol Hill was largely quiet today, with the House not in session and most members gone home for the weekend recess.