Despite some breathless speculation, there is no debt ceiling deal or concrete options in the offing. In reply to my question as to whether leaders were going to take some test votes in their caucus, a top Republican aide exclaimed, “Absolutely not. There is nothing to whip! ” On the Senate side, an adviser to Republican leadership told me, “The president said the parties are still far apart. Staff will be meeting between now and Sunday. I think the Sunday meeting is the fish-or-cut-bait meeting.” Perhaps. But it is only July 7, and the real work on these deals is usually not completed until the final days or even hours before a deadline.
The Post reported President Obama’s admonition: “Nothing is agreed to until everything’s agreed to, and the parties are still far apart on a wide range of issues.” But in this case, it is safe to say nothing is agreed. Period.
As expected, the White House revelation that it is open to entitlement cuts has brought howls from the left. “Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said Thursday morning that he has not been briefed on Obama’s overture on Social Security but that House Democrats remain opposed to including cuts to the program as part of any debt-reduction deal.” And despite media reports squinting to see an opening on the GOP for tax hikes, there is none.
One side should blink but there is a fundamental imbalance in the negotiating posture of the two sides. The White House argues that disaster will occur if the debt ceiling isn’t raised. Republicans shrug, point out that debt payment and Social Security obligations can be easily met. In other words, the GOP is willing to blow past any “deadline” suggested by the Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner; the Democrats say they aren’t. In Negotiations 101, that puts more pressure on the Democrats to make concessions. The Republicans can sit back, waiting for the White House to crack on tax hikes. Come to think of it, that’s what they did in last year’s lame-duck session and on the 2011 continuing resolution.