Obama: It’s ‘Decision Time’ on Debt

BY David Chalian  July 15, 2011 at 8:14 AM EDT

U.S. Capitol; Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama wants Congress to decide on plan to raise the debt ceiling. Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

The weeklong series of White House meetings with President Obama and bipartisan congressional leaders has apparently produced one concrete result: There will be no meeting Friday.

In fact, no further White House negotiating sessions are on the schedule.

Instead of another fruitless meeting, President Obama will use his bully pulpit, which Friday will be the White House press briefing room podium, to frame the current state of affairs.

Congressional leaders will meet with their respective conferences and caucuses to determine what, if anything, is able to achieve sufficient votes to raise the debt limit and avoid default on Aug. 2.

The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane report:

“Before bringing talks to a close Thursday, Obama gave Republicans three options: The far-reaching $4 trillion deal that includes taxes and cuts to entitlement programs; a $2 trillion package that would require each side to give only a little; and a much smaller package that would include no tax increases and no cuts to entitlement programs — and do much less to solve the nation’s financial problems.”

It is that last option that continues to be the center of gravity in the ongoing discussions on Capitol Hill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., continue to discuss how to attach spending cuts (roughly the $1.5 trillion identified in the talks led by Vice President Joe Biden last month) to Sen. McConnell’s plan to transfer authority to raise the debt ceiling to President Obama.

Lisa Mascarao of the Tribune’s Washington Bureau has the latest on the McConnell/Reid hybrid plan.

And POLITICO’s David Rogers notes that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, remains open to the backup plan even though it’s hard to imagine a majority of his members supporting it.

As for President Obama, he’ll no doubt use his 11 a.m. ET news conference to appear once again as the sole person willing to bend to accomplish a huge, long-term deficit reduction deal. He’ll likely embody America’s frustration and appeal to Congress’ better angels to move the country from the brink of financial calamity. However, if his last few outings provide any clues, don’t expect the president to draw ideological battle lines too firmly, as he desperately wants a compromise with Republicans to emerge sooner rather than later.

MINNESOTA SHUTDOWN DEAL REACHED

Minnesota’s two-week government shutdown will come to an end if state legislators can agree to a deal reached Thursday by Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

The two sides had been at an impasse over how to close the state’s $5 billion budget gap, and Gov. Dayton eventually agreed to Republican demands to close the gap without tax increases.

“During the past two weeks, I have been listening carefully to people throughout Minnesota,” Dayton said in a letter to Minnesota’s Republican legislative leaders. “They are telling me that, overwhelmingly, they want this budget dispute resolved. While they strongly prefer my proposed solution to that of the Republican legislature, more than anything, they want this government shutdown to end. Now.”

The shutdown closed state parks, forced 22,000 state workers off the job and prevented bars and restaurants from buying alcohol, according to the New York Times.

Tim Pugmire of Minnesota Public Radio reports:

“Although DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders are agreed on a budget framework to end a 15-day-old state government shutdown, neither side celebrates the deal, which relies heavily on one-time money and pushes a big part of the budget problem into the future.

After two days on the road talking with Minnesotans about the shutdown’s effects, Dayton decided he would reluctantly accept a Republican budget offer that he had initially rejected two weeks ago.

The GOP offer would generate about $1.4 billion in new revenue from two sources: it borrows against future tobacco settlement payments to the state, and it increases the amount of deferred state payments to school districts.”

Dayton was able to get Republicans to remove social policy riders to the plan and to concede on a 15 percent reduction in state workers in every agency.

While Republican legislators praised the plan, some Democrats were unhappy with the arrangement.

“No way can I support this awful ‘compromise’ further tanking schools, deeper debt, kicking the whale down the road,” wrote state Rep. Mindy Greiling, according to the Washington Post.

The Minnesota impasse is reminiscent of the debacle in Washington, where a Democratic executive branch is wrestling with Republicans in the legislature who are demanding spending cuts in any agreement.

The Post reports that Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers, one of the leaders in negotiations with Dayton, doesn’t recommend using a shutdown to pressure opponents:

“Using a shutdown to put pressure on Democrats is ‘not a lesson that I would say to anybody,’ Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers (R) said. ‘We did not want a shutdown in the first place. We wanted a lights-on bill that would keep the government funded at 70 or 80 percent while we worked this out.’”

However, one lesson from the drama: Zellers’ side did get the deal without tax increases.

GENERIC OPPONENT

A new Gallup Poll shows President Obama trailing a generic Republican opponent for the 2012 election, 47 percent to 39 percent, a slightly wider margin than in June.

Of course while President Obama will run against a specific person who his campaign will try to define and criticize, the poll shows registered voters willing to turn against the president as this campaign gets underway. The last time President Obama led in this poll was in May, after Osama bin Laden was killed.

Gallup makes a somewhat useful comparison to the re-election campaigns of President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush and how the generic opponent poll reflected the larger trend of the campaigns:

“The elder Bush held large leads over his generic Democratic opponent throughout 1991, but early 1992 preferences were more evenly divided and Bush eventually lost his re-election bid. The younger Bush also consistently maintained at least a small advantage over the Democrat throughout 2003, before winning re-election in a close contest in November 2004.”

A lot can change between now and November 2012, and a lot will depend on which candidate the Republican Party selects to face President Obama. But these results show that at least right now, the president will have a fight on his hands to keep the Oval Office.

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