A bipartisan meeting at the White House on Tuesday failed to break the logjam over extension of the Bush tax cuts, and some Republicans are alleging that the president intentionally designed his debt-reduction commission to fail.
The meeting marked President Barack Obama's first parley with Republican leaders since the GOP midterms landslide.
The president said he was pleased with the tenor of the meeting, but added it would be “unwise and unfair” to extend the Bush-era tax breaks for all Americans regardless of income.
After the meeting, incoming House Speaker John Boehner said Obama admitted he “hadn’t spent much time with us, reaching out and talking with us, and [he] committed to doing so.”
Afterward, both Democrats and Republicans spoke the language of bipartisan reconciliation. But Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell did not back away from a Washington Post Op-Ed they wrote Tuesday accusing Democrats of clinging to a “liberal wish list,” rather than focusing on repairing the economy and boosting employment.
Putting an exclamation mark on that talking point on Tuesday, the Senate voted 56 to 39 against a proposal that would have banned earmarks in the upper chamber. Republicans in both the House and the Senate have vowed not to submit earmark requests.
One indication the president is determined to strike a deal with Republicans on the tax extensions: He directed Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and White House Budget Director Jack Lew to work with both parties to find a compromise.
Tuesday’s effort to break through the political impasse comes at a critical point in the lame-duck Congress.
Unemployment benefits are set to expire at midnight. The Bush-era tax breaks are set to expire at year’s end. And the president’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform must report by Wednesday whether its 18 members have been able to reach a consensus on how to tackle the deficit.
When Obama announced establishment of the commission in February, he had said: “I’m confident that the commission I’m establishing today will build a bipartisan consensus to put America on the path toward fiscal reform and responsibility.”
But at least four of the 18 members of the commission now say it was designed intentionally to fail from the beginning, according to Politico.com.
Why establish a commission knowing it would be structured so that it would be unable to reach an agreement? Sources say the maneuver effectively kicked the issue past the midterm elections, and avoided any chance that the administration’s options could be limited by the commission’s findings.
“Arguably, there was just a quiet agreement that there was enough veto power on both sides to make sure that they don’t get a supermajority,” Chris Edwards, editor of CATO’s DownsizingGovernment.org, told Newsmax. “That could be true.”
Obama structured the commission so that 14 of its 18 members would have to agree on any debt-reduction proposal. For months, commission members have been openly telling the media that, under those circumstances, it was highly unlikely an agreement could be achieved by the president’s Dec. 1 deadline.
The two chairmen of the Commission, Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, recently released their own deficit-cutting recommendations, which did not carry the support of a majority of the commission. Liberals criticized the recommendations for going too far, while conservatives generally said it didn’t go far enough.
GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas told Politico on Monday: “Given [Obama’s] record, it is hard to believe it was a sincere effort. I don’t know if that was an effort to sweep it under the carpet before a national election. It is kind of hard to take the whole effort seriously at this point.”
However, Edwards contends that a deadlocked report from the commission still could prove useful. “I think they’re going to support a whole menu of spending restraint and cut options,” he said.
Edwards also voiced confidence that the Bush tax cuts will be extended.
“There’s no way that Republicans are going to agree to tax hikes, especially after an election like this,” he said.
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