Frustration, Deadlock Dominate Talks
Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell, left, Lamar Alexander and Jon Kyl board an elevator en route to a news conference in the Capitol about debt ceiling talks . Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call.
If the threat of a credit rating downgrade from Moody’s Investors Service and a warning of possible “financial calamity” from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke doesn’t bring congressional leaders and President Obama closer to an agreement, what will?
The partisan deadlock remains firmly intact, which apparently caused tensions to flare at the end of Wednesday’s negotiating session at the White House.
The New York Times’ Carl Hulse provides the differing accounts of what took place inside the Cabinet Room:
“Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, said he raised the idea of taking what savings could be achieved now — roughly $1.4 trillion — and then having additional votes to raise the debt limit again before the elections in November 2012, with Republicans ultimately seeking a total of at least $2.4 trillion in cuts with no tax increases.
“At this, Mr. Cantor said, the president ‘got very agitated, seemingly.’ Mr. Cantor quoted the president as saying: ‘Eric, don’t call my bluff. I’m going to the American people with this.’
“Then, Mr. Cantor said, ‘He shoved back and said, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow’ and walked out.’
“‘I was a little taken aback,’ Mr. Cantor added.
“Democrats said that Mr. Obama’s departure was not abrupt, but that he had forcefully made a case that Republicans had been unwilling to compromise. ‘Enough’s enough,’ one Democrat familiar with the talks quoted Mr. Obama as saying.”
Without any prospect of a deficit reduction agreement on the horizon, the backup plan by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to have the president raise the debt limit without any guaranteed spending cuts continued to dominate the conversation on Capitol Hill and is being increasingly considered as a viable way to avoid default.
Rep. Cantor made clear to reporters Wednesday that Sen. McConnell’s plan to transfer that authority to the president without concrete spending cuts would not pass the House of Representatives, but many Republicans and Democrats in the Senate appear to be pursuing the path as a fail safe as the clock ticks down to the Aug. 2 deadline.
One Democrat from a red state with a tough re-election battle ahead of her next year blasted Sen. McConnell’s plan as a cynical tactic and not a serious solution to the problem.
“I think Mitch McConnell, frankly, has lost his mind,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told the crew on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Sen. McCaskill was then asked what she would tell Sen. McConnell if she ran into him in the Senate dining room.
“I would just say, Mitch, honestly, with a straight face you do a press conference and say, here’s the solution to the problem: Let’s let the Democrats do it and we want them do it three times before the next election and it’ll be OK with us if they do it as long as we don’t have to touch it. And people aren’t ridiculing that? I mean, this is when we’re supposed to come together and show the country that we are capable of governing, not when we are supposed to be figuring what is the best strategy for me to become majority floor leader.”
President Obama told the group of eight bipartisan congressional leaders who will return to the White House for the fifth consecutive day of meetings Thursday that by the end of the day Friday, a decision will need to be made as to which course will be pursued: an attainable deficit reduction package with a mix of cuts and revenues or a Sen. McConnell-style backup plan because no deal on a broader package is possible.
The retiring Texas congressman is launching his first television spot of the 2012 presidential campaign Friday, but the well-timed, Hollywood-themed effort highlighting his firm opposition to raising the debt ceiling is already up on YouTube.
Just like a movie preview, the commercial begins with the message: “The following preview has been approved for all audiences.” It then goes through a brief history of debt limit compromises in the ’80s and ’90s, suggesting that past bargains resulted in tax hikes but “broken promises” when it came to spending cuts.
“This August, the next chapter will be written. A defining moment,” asserts the ad’s narrator.
“We know where they stand,” says the narrator, as images of President Obama, Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., appear on screen along with two lines of text — “higher spending” and “more taxes.”
The Democrats are then replaced by a photo of Sen. McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as the narrator asks: “But will our party’s leaders repeat the mistakes of the past? Will they choose compromise, or conviction?”
The kicker: “One candidate has always been true: Ron Paul. Cut spending, balanced the budget, no deals. Standing up to the Washington machine. Guided by principle.”
The spot, which the Paul campaign says is a six-figure buy in Iowa and New Hampshire (and other places soon after), builds on his fierce opposition to lifting the government’s borrowing limit at a time when the debate is consuming all the oxygen in Washington, and means that it will likely find its way into coverage of the debt talks in the coming days.
The ad, with its “compromise or conviction” question, underlines the difficulty Republican leaders are facing with members of their own party who are opposed to raising the debt ceiling under any circumstance.
On Wednesday, Rep. Paul also took aim at Sen. McConnell’s backup plan in an email to supporters. He accused the Republican leader of “scheming to raise the debt ceiling with no real spending cuts,” arguing such a move would hand “more power over to the executive branch — just because the Senate GOP leadership doesn’t want to have to ‘deal with it’ again!”
The debt limit debate is a topic right in Rep. Paul’s wheelhouse, so it makes sense he would seek to capitalize on the issue while it’s on the political front-burner. Whether the snazzy preview can actually bring in the crowds will get an early test next month when the Iowa GOP holds its Ames Straw Poll.
TO PLEDGE OR NOT TO PLEDGE
The Iowa social conservative group the Family Leader looks as if it will only have backing by Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann on its pledge asking presidential candidates to avow their commitment to marriage as a monogamous institution and an agreement between one man and one woman.
Pawlenty and Herman Cain have both been wooing social conservatives in Iowa to their candidacies, but have now come out against signing their name to the Family Leader pledge. They join Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich, among others, who have previously announced their opposition to it.
Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register has more on the group run by former Mike Huckabee campaign chairman Bob Vander Plaats.
“Vander Plaats rejected the notion that controversy over the pledge has undermined the Family Leader’s influence.”
‘From our perspective, the pledge has done exactly what we intended,’ he said.”
Fearful of offending any potential supporters from the social conservative movement, the Pawlenty campaign rolled out a six-minute video of the candidate and his wife talking about faith and values in conjunction with Pawlenty’s decision to not sign the pledge.
“I deeply respect, and share, Bob Vander Plaatts’ commitment to promoting the sanctity of marriage, a culture of life, and the core principles of the Family Leader’s Marriage Vow Pledge. However, rather than sign onto the words chosen by others, I prefer to choose my own words, especially seeking to show compassion to those who are in broken families through no fault of their own,” Pawlenty said in a statement Wednesday.
Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody has a look at Pawlenty’s video.
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