Obama Meets Hill Leaders After Debt PlansTabled

Saturday, 30 Jul 2011 05:03 PM

 

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President Barack Obama was meeting with Democratic congressional leaders today as senators of both parties drafted alternative plans for raising the U.S. debt ceiling fashioned by bipartisan groups of senators, according to Senator Kent Conrad.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he had spoken with Obama by telephone today. And House Speaker John Boehner spoke with Obama by telephone last night, according to a Republican aide. McConnell and Boehner said at a news conference they were confident an agreement could be reached.

Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said a few bipartisan groups of senators have drafted three alternative plans to supplement Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s proposal. The Republican-run House today defeated Reid’s plan.

The alternative plans include possible new revenue as part of their formula for cutting the federal deficit, according to Conrad. Republican leaders have said from the start of negotiations that a net increase in tax revenue is unacceptable.

“All three involve the possibility of revenue,” Conrad said of the plans.

The 3:30 p.m. meeting at the White House followed the House’s rejection of Reid’s plan to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, a symbolic vote in the congressional impasse three days before a threatened government default.

Confidence Voiced

“We’re going to get a result,” McConnell said at a news conference after the House rejected the Senate’s plan.

“We’re dealing with reasonable, responsible people who want this crisis to end as quickly as possible,” Boehner said at the news conference, “and I’m confident we will.”

McConnell was not among the Republicans involved in the alternative bipartisan plans, according to Conrad.

The House voted 246-173 against Reid’s proposal to lift the $14.3 trillion debt limit by $2.4 trillion. This mirrored the Senate’s rejection of House Speaker John Boehner’s plan the night before.

Reid said his plan aims to attract bipartisan support because it includes no tax increases and would cut spending by the same amount as the debt-limit boost. As the Senate prepared for action on his plan late tonight or early tomorrow, McConnell said Republicans will block a vote on the Democratic leader’s measure.

Republicans said the Democrats’ plan is unacceptable in part because it doesn’t ensure long-term deficit reduction, including cuts to entitlement programs. They also said it relies on a budget “gimmick” by counting as deficit reduction plans to bring troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, while the Congressional Budget Office has counted the drawdown in its scoring of the financial impact of the plan.

Compromise Needed

“We need to come up with a compromise,” said House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, a California Republican. The Reid bill “is not the plan that can gain broad support in the House and Senate.”

House Republican leaders brought up the Reid plan under a procedure that requires a two-thirds vote for passage, unlike the chamber’s simple-majority handling of its own bill. No Republicans voted for Reid’s plan, and 11 Democrats voted against it.

Process ‘a Joke’

“This process has become a joke,” said Representative Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat.

“It’s time for us to end this theater of the absurd,” said Pelosi of California before the House’s vote. “It’s time to get real.”

The Senate is debating Reid’s proposal before a scheduled 1 a.m. vote tomorrow, even as informal talks continue on a bipartisan debt deal that can pass both chambers before the Aug. 2 deadline. A Senate vote on the plan could be held at about 7 a.m. on Aug. 1, while McConnell threatens to block it.

Obama yesterday appealed to party leaders to forge a compromise, and so far hasn’t announced when he’ll meet with them next.

The Senate yesterday rejected the debt-limit legislation that the Republican-led House had passed hours earlier with no Democratic support. That measure would have required congressional approval of a constitutional amendment to balance the budget and forced another debt-limit vote by lawmakers in about six months to continue the nation’s borrowing authority beyond early 2012.

Taken ‘Hostage’

Reid, a Nevada Democrat who offered modifications to an initial Democratic plan that he said were designed to attract Republican support, accused Republican leaders of rebuffing his efforts to negotiate.

“Republicans have in effect taken America by hostage,” demanding policy changes they would never get in legislation,’’ he said. “Democrats are willing to sit down and negotiate. My door is still open.”

“We’re missing Republicans,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, though with just days left to a possible Aug. 2 default, “that could change.”

Financial markets were restrained in reacting to the Washington impasse yesterday.

Treasuries rallied, sending yields on 10-year notes to the lowest level since November. The yield on 10-year Treasury notes declined 15 basis points to 2.79 percent in New York.

Stocks fell as economic growth trailed forecasts. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index slipped 0.7 percent and tumbled 3.9 percent this week for its worst slide in a year.

Confidence ‘Slightly Eroded’

Christine Lagarde, the new chief of the International Monetary Fund, said confidence in Treasuries is “slightly eroded” as politicians continue to squabble over the debt limit. “There was a positive bias toward the United States of America, toward Treasury bills,” Lagarde said in an interview on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” to be broadcast tomorrow.

“The current crisis is probably chipping into that very positive bias,” she said, according to a CNN transcript.

The modifications Reid proposed in his plan yesterday bring it closer to one McConnell proposed earlier this month.

Borrowing authority would be provided in two separate $1.2 trillion installments, one immediately and one in several months as the nation again nears its borrowing limit.

All but the first $416 billion could be blocked through a joint resolution of Congress, though opponents would have to muster supermajorities in both chambers to override a veto.

$2.2 Trillion Savings

The new plan would yield debt savings of $2.2 trillion -- about the same as the total borrowing authority extended -- and call on a 12-member bipartisan congressional committee to draft legislation to lower the deficit to 3 percent or less of gross domestic product.

Democrats control the Senate with 53 votes, and would need the support of at least seven Republicans to push Reid’s proposal closer to passage in the vote early tomorrow morning. McConnell said Democrats are short of the supermajority they need to force a vote on the measure because 43 Republicans have signed a letter opposing it.

Senator Scott Brown, a Massachusetts Republican, said his staff has been working with Reid’s to put “more teeth” in the joint committee plan.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, said “absolutist” lawmakers aligned with the Tea Party have put the U.S. “on the brink.”

“I am really worried about where we are standing, and I think part of that has come about because you have individuals that say, ‘It is my way or the highway,’” Murkowski said in an interview at Bloomberg’s Washington office. “That is not how you govern.”

AAA Rating Risk

“If we don’t come to an agreement, we could lose our country’s AAA credit rating, not because we didn’t have the capacity to pay our bills -- we do -- but because we didn’t have a AAA political system to match our AAA credit rating,” Obama said earlier yesterday at the White House.

Obama said with Democrats and Republicans in “rough agreement” on plans to raise the nation’s debt limit within days of a threatened default, the time for compromise is “now.” The president and the Republicans used their weekly addresses on the Internet and radio to continue the debate.

The House-passed plan was “unacceptable” and would mean another debt-ceiling extension in less than a year, Obama said today. “There are plenty of ways out of this mess,” he said, noting the parties aren’t that far apart on spending or how to tackle entitlements and the tax code. “But there is very little time.”

Jon Kyl of Arizona, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said in the Republican address that Obama and the Democrats are “too committed to the European style of big government.”

Still, he said, the consequences of missing the Aug. 2 deadline could be “severe,” with markets dropping in value and hurting Americans’ retirement savings. “Republicans believe we must solve our debt crisis, and we believe we can solve it if Democrats will work with us,” he said.

Aug. 2 Deadline

The Treasury Department has said the U.S. will breach its borrowing limit and run out of options for avoiding default if the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling isn’t raised by Aug. 2.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad expressed confidence that lawmakers will head off a default.

“Work expands to fill the time. We certainly know that’s true here,” Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “Leaders on both sides are sufficiently responsible that they understand if there were a default, it would be a disaster for this country.”

Talks for Deal

Behind the scenes, Democratic officials said, talks on a potential deal centered on how to force future deficit-cutting by Congress, by setting up consequences -- such as automatic spending cuts or tax increases, or some combination of the two - - if the savings aren’t achieved.

“If we need to put in place some kind of enforcement mechanism to hold us all accountable for making these reforms, I’ll support that, too, if it’s done in a smart and balanced way,” Obama said.

The Treasury is preparing contingency plans to pay the government’s obligations should Congress fail to raise the borrowing limit in time. Carney said Treasury officials may reveal the plans this weekend.

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard said a resolution of the debt-ceiling impasse may remove a key unknown that has restrained economic growth in the U.S. “Once this last uncertainty is resolved, the path to faster growth may be open,” Bullard said, according to prepared remarks for a speech yesterday in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

White House press secretary Jay Carney reiterated that Obama would accept a short-term debt ceiling extension of a few days only if needed to finish work on legislation lifting the limit for a longer period.


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