Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) was forced to take matters into his own hands. The White House meeting with President Obama on Saturday morning was brief and unproductive. The name of the game then became for congressional Democratic and Republican leaders to make a deal that would be ready to announce today.
The image of the president’s angry press conference on Friday made for a stark contrast with the bipartisan congressional efforts throughout Saturday afternoon. Even Obama’s most fawning admirers had to admit that he hadn’t improved his stature in the episode. (David Brooks observed, “I’ve never seen a presidential press conference with the president so angry in public. . . . But the president’s tone of being the only adult in Washington, everyone else is a child, that he’s going to summon people to the White House as if they are kindergartners, even if you agree on the substance, it’s kind of hard to go along with someone who is insulting you all the time.”)
So much for the White House. Now it’s time to make a deal. The Post reports:
Top Republican aides said Boehner envisions a short-term extension of the debt limit that would include spending cuts that meet or exceed the debt limit increase. That would be paired with a strategy for finding additional savings. Options include a new super committee of the sort proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). Another option would be to tell existing legislative committees to make policy changes over the next few months aimed at meeting the savings targets.
In the call, Boehner stressed that the path forward would be a new plan, not a proposal offered earlier this month by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to authorize Obama to raise the debt limit on his own, without explicit congressional approval.
In other words, a plan C is now in the works. A little McConnell-Reid (a commission), a little House Republicans (cuts greater than the debt increase) and no tax hikes.
Moreover, a senior Senate source informs me that discussions had begun well in advance of Saturday for a bipartisan congressional deal. In those meetings, Reid, McConnell and Boehner began to craft what they hoped would be a final bill. We know that Republicans and Democrats alike understood that the White House was incapable of brokering an agreement.
The White House has never had the will nor the ability to put forth a plan that could pass the Republican-led House. For more than a week, there has been no effective bargaining going on at the White House.
Boehner and Reid have a common interest in avoiding default. And frankly, Reid, with all those Senate Democrats up for re-election in 2012, might understand the appeal of a plan with no tax hikes. Reid issued a pro forma, darn Republicans statement last night; but one sensed that was designed to keep his base at bay. Boehner’s office responded in a restrained fashion: “For months, we have laid out our principles to pass a bill that fulfills the president’s request to increase the debt limit beyond the next election. We have passed a debt limit increase with the reforms the American people demand, the ‘Cut, Cap, and Balance’ bill. The Democrats who run Washington have refused to offer a plan. Now, as a result, a two-step process is inevitable. Like the President and the entire bipartisan, bicameral Congressional leadership, we continue to believe that defaulting on the full faith and credit of the United States is not an option.” Republican sources involved in the congressional negotiations tell me it is not Reid who is being obstreperous.
It is ironic that House Republicans were chastised for being in the grip of the Tea Party back-benchers. In fact, Tea Partyer and House veteran alike had a common purpose from the get-go: spending cuts and no taxes. The White House, on the other hand, wound up hamstrung by its leftwing and the president’s lack of negotiating talent. Obama could not make a deal unless it included significant tax hikes, and could not make a deal that had specific, firm and substantial entitlement cuts. It was on both these items that the White House on Friday “moved the goal posts,” as Boehner put it.
If the congressional team can strike a deal, Boehner will have to get his bill through the House, send it to the Senate and hope Reid and McConnell can each round up the required votes. If and when they do, members of Congress, both House and Senate, should leave town. They will have done their jobs. Any default at that point would be purely and completely the president’s fault.