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Deep Divisions Persist in Fight Over Debt Ceiling

Army Honor Guard rehearses for the presidential inauguration; photo by Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S. Army Honor Guard rehearses Sunday for the presidential inauguration. Photo by Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

The Morning Line

President Obama’s next clash with Congress over spending and the debt may be one month away, but the administration is already setting parameters for the conversation that signal any agreement would be difficult to achieve.

Under pressure from Senate Democrats to take the issue of increasing the debt ceiling into his own hands and to bypass House Speaker John Boehner’s desire to cut spending, Mr. Obama over the weekend rejected efforts to do so. That includes shutting down the proposition of minting a trillion-dollar coin.

White House press secretary Jay Carney issued a statement Saturday insisting that Mr. Obama believes there are just “two options” when it comes to the debt limit.

“Congress can pay its bills or it can fail to act and put the nation into default,” Carney said. He added:

When Congressional Republicans played politics with this issue last time, putting us at the edge of default, it was a blow to our economic recovery, causing our nation’s credit rating to be downgraded. The President and the American people won’t tolerate Congressional Republicans holding the American economy hostage again simply so they can force disastrous cuts to Medicare and other programs the middle class depend on while protecting the wealthy. Congress needs to do its job.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., scolded Senate Democrats for asking Mr. Obama to do an end-run around Congress, saying in a statement Friday that “avoiding this problem will only make it worse, which is why many of us view the upcoming debt limit debate as a perfect opportunity to face up to Washington’s spending.”

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington told Politico it is “possible that we would shut down the government to make sure President Obama understands that we’re serious.”

“We always talk about whether or not we’re going to kick the can down the road. I think the mood is that we’ve come to the end of the road,” she said.

More from the Politico piece, by Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Jake Sherman:

Starting Monday, Boehner will huddle with his leadership team to discuss his preliminary thinking on a spending strategy. A source who attended meetings to prepare for those private talks said GOP leaders are authentically at a loss on how to control members who don’t respond to the normal incentives of wanting to help party leaders or of avoiding situations — like default — that could be public relations nightmares.

After meeting with his leadership team, Boehner will head to Williamsburg, Va., to meet with the entire GOP conference on Thursday and Friday. He will walk them through the political and economic consequences of default and his plan for forcing spending cuts without allowing any new tax hikes to get smuggled in. “It is more likely you default than you raise any taxes,” said a senior GOP aide….

In a meeting between House GOP leadership and outside campaign groups at the Republican National Committee on Thursday, Boehner’s chief of staff, Mike Sommers, discussed the possibility of increasing the debt limit for only one to three months — a move that would rattle markets and threaten the U.S. credit rating. The idea, which has little chance of winning Senate or White House support, shows how uncertain Republicans are about how they might avoid the white-knuckle moment of default. “Any option — including that one — is contingent on getting corresponding cuts/reforms in return,” a Boehner aide said. “It depends on the White House. If they offer cuts and reforms equal to one month, that’s what they get. If they agree to more cuts and reforms, they get a greater increase.”

The conventional wisdom is that Obama and Congress will ultimately work out a grand spending compromise that raises the debt limit, keeps funding the government and changes the $1.2 trillion in automatic “sequestration” spending cuts set to kick in on March 1.

The weekend activity sets the scene for the next few weeks of negotiations.

It’s no accident that Mr. Obama will deliver the State of the Union address on Feb. 12, just a few days before the government is expected to hit the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling.


The Obama administration task force assigned with creating a comprehensive plan to curb gun violence is nearly finished, with Vice President Biden expected to present a list of recommendations to the president by Tuesday — just over a month since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

Biden will huddle with the House Democratic task force on gun violence, a group that includes Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., whose husband was gunned down in Long Island in 1993, and Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., who replaced former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot. Also attending are Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

On the Sunday talk shows, Republican lawmakers voiced their opposition to reinstating the assault weapons ban that was first passed in 1994 but has since expired.

Arizona Sen. John McCain said he did not think the proposal could pass Congress now, and he contended that it was not the answer to solving the problem of gun violence.

“Let me just say that we obviously have a situation where crazy people, deranged individuals are having access to guns. Now exactly how do you do that? In Norway, a country with the most stringent gun laws, a guy was able to slaughter a huge number of people there in Norway,” McCain said during an appearance on CBS. “So I think we need to look at it in its entirety. I think all of us should have this conversation. I applaud the conversation. We need to have it stopped, but to somehow believe that guns away from people is the answer. I don’t think history shows that that’s the right way to do it.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., who has received an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, agreed that only targeting assault weapons would not be enough and spoke in favor of a comprehensive approach.

“That has changed the dialogue and it should change it,” Manchin said about the Newtown shooting. “How have we gotten to a culture of mass violence, whether if you’re just going to say it’s all about guns and we need gun changes and bans, then you’re wrong.”

Manchin also sought to assure gun owners that their Second Amendment rights would not be taken away. “That won’t happen. And the first amendment won’t be infringed upon, but we have to look at how do we cure this violence, the culture of mass violence,” Manchin said on CBS.

NRA President David Keene said on CNN that he thinks Congress will not be able to pass an assault weapons ban or a limit to high capacity magazines.

The NewsHour will interview Keene on Tuesday.

(If you have 20 minutes, read this weekend’s piece on the long and fascinating history of the NRA crafted by the Washington Post’s Joel Achenbach, Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz.)

With so much national focus on this issue, Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley will push for tougher gun control measures during this year’s General Assembly session.


  • The New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer previews the important meeting coming this week when defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel heads to Capitol Hill to sit down with Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.

  • On Monday, Schumer will unveil tickets for the inaugural ceremonies. Schumer is chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, which will begin releasing tickets to House and Senate members. He also plans to announce a mobile app aimed at helping ticketholders get to their designated area during the ceremony.

  • Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Hagel was “superbly qualified” to serve as secretary of defense. Powell also had some tough words for Republicans, saying the party needed to take a “very hard look at itself” and accusing some in the GOP of “intolerance” toward ethnic minorities.

  • Julia Preston of the New York Times reports that Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats plan to push forward with a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system in the coming months.

  • The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes reviews Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s new memoir, “My Beloved World,” in which she writes about growing up in the Bronx, her life-long struggle with diabetes and how affirmative action policies helped her gain admission to Princeton University.

  • Sen. Jay Rockefeller will not seek a sixth term in 2014, the West Virginia Democrat announced Friday. Check out Roll Call’s casualty list of the 113th Congress. In a statement, the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee said Rockefeller’s retirement makes the state “an even stronger pickup opportunity” for the GOP. Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito already is running.

  • Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., waded into a pair of hot-button issues at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast last week. He said he would be open to limiting high-capacity magazines and amending the gun-show loophole for background checks. Gingrey, an OB-GYN since 1975, also said former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin was “partly right” when saying that in the case of “legitimate rape” a woman’s body has a way of shutting down so that pregnancy does not occur.

  • The Sunlight Foundation followed the money to see what happens to the extra cash raised by an inaugural committee after the festivities end.

  • Officials staged a dress rehearsal of the inauguration over the weekend.

  • The Army Corps of Engineers is making progress removing bedrock in the Mississippi River to try and ease barge traffic slowed by drought. NPR explains why this is an important story.

  • The National Journal looks at how Democrats could impede Mr. Obama’s second-term agenda.

  • The Huffington Post examines how Republicans are attempting to rebuild after a rough 2012.

  • Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz looks at Biden’s stepped-up role as he considers his options for 2016.

  • Politico reports that former Sen. Scott Brown might have more luck running for governor in Massachusetts instead of in the special election for Senate.

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., disavowed a report linking him to a bribery case.

  • Dana Millbank opines on why Mr. Obama is entitled to a Cabinet of “yes” men.

  • The technology community over the weekend mourned Aaron Swartz, who killed himself at age 26. He created the RSS standard and is credited for helping to found Reddit and Creative Commons.

  • The White House responded officially and awesomely to the petition requesting the government build a Death Star.

  • Monday’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA is a video explainer of the number of active-duty troops serving in the military.


  • Mark Shields and David Brooks talked Afghanistan, debt politics and more in their regular Friday segment.

Watch here or below:

  • In this week’s Doubleheader, Hari Sreenivasan asked David the question on everyone’s minds: What does he think of the trillion dollar coin? Watch to the end to see someone throw a gang sign.

Watch the Doubleheader here or below:

  • Watch Judy Woodruff on ABC’s “This Week.” She detailed her reporting about how the White House views the challenges ahead.

  • Gwen Ifill remembers the first presidential campaign she ever covered and the masterful work Richard Ben Cramer did on that same year. Read Gwen’s Take here.

  • Here is our report on Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit, and here is analysis from former State Department official Peter Tomsen and Said Jawad, the former Afghan ambassador.

  • Ray Suarez reports on the Consumer Electronics Show that dominated Las Vegas last week.

  • Here is our detailed guide to the official inaugural activities and festivities.


Cassie M. Chew contributed to this report.

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