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Obama and Boehner Take Center Stage as Republicans Walk From Biden Talks

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., left, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., walk to the budget talk meeting with Vice President Biden and other Congressional leaders in Sen. Reid’s office on Tuesday, May 24, 2011. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., announced Thursday that they were pulling out of the deficit reduction and debt-limit extension negotiations led by Vice President Biden, and in the process called on President Obama to weigh in on where he stands on raising taxes as part of any deal to reduce the deficit.

“President Obama needs to decide between his goal of higher taxes, or a bipartisan plan to address our deficit. He can’t have both. But we need to hear from him,” Kyl and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a joint statement.

Cantor said in his statement that the Biden group had already identified trillions of dollars in cuts and a blueprint for improving the country’s massive debt and deficit, but that he could not participate in the talks as long as Democrats wanted tax increases on the table.

Kyl and Cantor were the only Republicans participating in the talks, rendering any further meeting of the group unlikely.

This development pushes the high-stakes debate over how to extend the federal government’s ability to borrow money past August 2 toward the White House, as Republicans have clearly expressed that they want President Obama to respond to their demand that any deficit reduction deal be based only on cuts to government spending.

Negotiations over what type of deal could pass the House and Senate and be signed by President Obama before the U.S. defaults on its debt will likely involve House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and President Obama. And time is running out for them to come to agreement on a deal that will also get support from their respective parties.

Boehner spoke to reporters shortly after the Wall Street Journal broke the news that Cantor was leaving the talks, which are scheduled to continue Thursday afternoon in the Capitol. He reiterated his position that he would not accept tax increases as any part of a deal to reduce the deficit in exchange for raising the federal debt limit by August 2.

“We don’t have any more time to waste. I want to reiterate that we will not agree to the president’s request to increase the debt limit without serious spending cuts and reforms to the way we spend the American people’s money,” Boehner said. “The spending cuts need to be greater than any increase in the debt limit.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Biden negotiator Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., also spoke to reporters after the news broke. Both had been meeting at the White House with President Obama, but said they did not know about Cantor’s and Kyl’s decision to withdraw during that meeting.

Pelosi said Democrats do want to eliminate tax breaks for large oil companies and for companies that ship jobs overseas.

Van Hollen repeated that the Democrats want a balanced approach to deficit reduction, which includes spending cuts and the phasing out of certain tax breaks.

“We have proposed a menu of eliminating types of special interest tax breaks and dealing with tax exemptions for the very wealthy in this country,” Van Hollen said. He repeated his warnings that Republicans are “playing chicken” with raising the debt limit could have disastrous economic effects.

“People are playing with fire and really putting the very fragile economy at greater threat by playing the games that we’ve been seeing,” he added.

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