There's no deal and evanescent hopes in Washington—largely over-wrought to begin with—of a mega deal that wrestled with all of the country's toughest spending and tax issues have been snuffed out.
On the eve of what some thought was a make-or-break White House meeting Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner has pulled the plug—telling President Obama, Wall Street, global bond markets, skittish consumers and pummeled job-seekers Washington can't go long. It's time for a mini-deal, one Obama doesn't want and other House GOP leaders have resisted.
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Boehner called Obama Saturday at Camp David and then issued the following statement:
"Despite good-faith efforts to find common ground, the White House will not pursue a bigger debt reduction agreement without tax hikes. I believe the best approach may be to focus on producing a smaller measure, based on the cuts identified in the Biden-led negotiations, that still meets our call for spending reforms and cuts greater than the amount of any debt limit increase," Boehner said.
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White House reaction was to stick to talking points and not attack Boehner directly. Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer issued the following statement: "The President believes that solving our fiscal problems is an economic imperative. But in order to do that, we cannot ask the middle-class and seniors to bear all the burden of higher costs and budget cuts. We need a balanced approach that asks the very wealthiest and special interests to pay their fair share as well, and we believe the American people agree."
The tepid White House response may suggest a certain empathy for the difficult position in which Boehner finds himself: "Both parties have made real progress thus far, and to back off now will not only fail to solve our fiscal challenge, it will confirm the cynicism people have about politics in Washington," Pfeiffer continued. "The President believes that now is the moment to rise above that cynicism and show the American people that we can still do big things. And so tomorrow, he will make the case to congressional leaders that we must reject the politics of least resistance and take on this critical challenge."
All week, even as both the president and Boehner were advancing the notion of a big deal that would raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling limit and reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years, lawmakers of every political stripe were urging caution.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made clear that Democrats would not entertain “any cuts in benefits for Social Security and Medicare,” and Republicans in the Senate were distancing themselves from any possibility of new tax revenue that was reportedly part of the deal.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appeared steadfast in his opposition to tax hikes as well, but suggested that the meeting scheduled for Sunday might still hold promise.
"Like the Speaker, Sen. McConnell has consistently said that we should cut Washington spending without raising taxes on job creators, particularly in the middle of a jobs crisis. And he remains concerned with the Democrats' unwillingness to take steps to protect entitlement programs from bankruptcy, but hopes the President will be able to use Sunday night's meeting to encourage them to take action on needed reforms," said Don Stewart, McConnell's deputy chief of staff for communications.
Boehner had been reportedly willing to consider up to $1 trillion in new tax revenue, mostly through a future tax code overhaul in exchange for an agreement by Democrats to reduce spending on entitlements, including Social Security.
The failure on Saturday disheartened Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but he remained optimistic that a deal would be reached.
"I am disappointed that Republicans are unable to work with us to take a historic step forward that would have dramatically reduced our long-term deficit. We asked Republicans to consider a balanced approach that would have required shared sacrifice, but they would not. We still need to make sure we avert the economic catastrophe that would occur if we were to let America fail to pay its bills for the first time in our history, and I am confident that we will. Americans have a right to expect their leaders to rise above partisanship and do the right thing for our economy and the middle class," Reid said.
Anxious Democrats warned the President that the fallout would be severe if he made any deal that cuts Social Security benefits.
Obama and congressional leaders met on Thursday and announced that they would meet again Sunday to work out details. That meeting is still on, but the big deal is apparently off the table.