As previously discussed, the President is no longer involved, and if Congress does get a bill to his desk he’ll sign it.
By Carol E Lee and Janet Hook
July 22 (WSJ) — A high-stakes effort by President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner to hatch a landmark deficit reduction deal collapsed in anger Friday, sending Washington into a weekend of negotiations over how the world’s top financial power can make good on its debt obligations.
In a letter to his colleagues, Mr. Boehner said he called off talks with the president. He informed Mr. Obama Friday night he planned to start negotiations with the Senate to seek what would likely be a smaller deal.
“In the end we couldn’t connect. Not because of different personalities, but because of different visions for our country,” Mr. Boehner wrote in the letter. Later, at a press conference, Mr. Boehner accused the president of “moving the goal post.”
Mr. Obama, visibly frustrated in his own news conference before Mr. Boehner’s, was critical of the GOP. He summoned Congressional leaders back to the White House Saturday morning where “they have to explain to me how it is we are going to avoid default.”
The president also sounded less optimistic than he has in recent weeks that congressional leaders could strike a deal that would avoid a government default. He said he has consulted with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner about the consequences of default.
Mr. Boehner said talks broke down because Mr. Obama came back at the last minute and asked for $400 billion in additional revenues on top of the $800 billion he thought they had agreed to. “Dealing with this White House is like dealing with a bowl of Jell-O,” Mr. Boehner said.
Senior White House officials said Mr. Obama called Mr. Boehner Thursday and sought more revenues, saying they were needed to win Democratic votes. They said the president was willing to negotiate the matter. Mr. Obama followed up with two more phone calls to the speaker, the White House said, and they weren’t returned until Friday evening when Mr. Boehner called to say the talks were off.
The demise of the grand bargain, the latest twist in Washington’s months-long search for an agreement to raise the debt ceiling, left the next steps uncertain. Congressional aides say the outlines of a deal must be clear by Monday if Congress is to approve a deal that would prevent the U.S. government from defaulting Aug. 2.
Treasury Department officials say that without more borrowing authority by that date, the government will run out of cash to pay all its bills, including Social Security benefits, military pensions and payments to contractors.
Several smaller options have been discussed that would cut the deficit between $1 trillion and $2.5 trillion. Changes to big government programs and the tax code won’t likely be tackled. That could solve the debt-ceiling problem, but create a new one if credit-rating firms think the agreement doesn’t justify their triple-A ratings on U.S. debt.
A debt downgrade, while not as serious as a default, could send interests rates higher and cause investors to panic. Mr. Obama raised that prospect Friday night in making the case for a larger deal.
“If we can’t come up with a serious plan for actual deficit and debt reduction, and all we’re doing is extending the debt ceiling for another six, seven, eight months, then the probabilities of downgrading U.S. credit are increased, and that will be an additional cloud over the economy and make it more difficult for us and more difficult for businesses to create jobs that the American people so desperately need,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Obama also said as leaders work through the weekend, they should keep in mind that the stock markets will be opening Monday.
The debt ceiling whiplash, with lawmakers lurching from one proposal to the next, has put financial markets on edge. Bond investors still appear to believe a deal will be inked, but others are bracing for volatile markets if the weekend’s negotiations don’t produce results.
“If I were, particularly, a foreign holder of U.S. debt, I’d be asking myself, ‘Who is running that country,'” said John Fath, managing partner for BTG Pactual, a Brazil-based investment bank. “This is like riding on a motorcycle and going right in front of an 18-wheeler. Are they out of their minds?”
Messrs. Obama and Boehner had incentives to push for more. They were thinking in part about their legacies, while many of their followers were focused on sticking to what they saw as their parties’ basic principles. Mr. Obama may have been willing to accept changes to programs such as Medicare, and Mr. Boehner may have countenanced tax-revenue increases.
Liberal groups Friday called Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign and Democratic congressional offices attacking the grand bargain. Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org, said it would “betray the core Democratic commitment to the middle class.”
Senior Republican aides said disagreements over taxes and changes to entitlement programs became too large to overcome.
Rep. Steve LaTourette (R., Ohio), a close friend of Mr. Boehner’s, said after an afternoon meeting of the GOP caucus: “The speaker was the most melancholy I’ve ever seen him. He’s always been a tremendous optimist. He feels he’s getting nowhere fast.”
Messrs. Obama and Boehner were discussing a deal that would set the stage for $2.7 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years and $800 billion in revenues generated through the tax code—a figure Mr. Obama suggested increasing to $1.2 billion, both sides agree. The plan would have included some of the spending cuts up front, while deferring other cuts and a tax overhaul until later.
Senior White House officials said the first part of the package, which would have immediately become law, also included an extension of unemployment insurance and the payroll tax break for employees.
A hurdle that emerged Thursday was the mechanism that would ensure Congress made good on its promise. Republicans wanted the so-called trigger to be elimination of the individual mandate in Mr. Obama’s health-care law, people familiar with the matter said. The White House refused to include that as a trigger, but said Mr. Obama would consider other options.
A smaller deal cut between congressional leaders would be a poor political outcome for both parties. The cuts likely wouldn’t be deep enough to satisfy conservatives, but would be big enough to irk liberals, and neither could claim credit for putting the U.S. on a path to long-term fiscal stability.
Senior Republican aides said they don’t know what shape a deal will ultimately take, but they said they need to present House members with an agreement by Monday to have time to pass legislation in both chambers by Aug. 2.
House Republicans will not back down from their demand for dollar–for–dollar spending cuts accompanying the debt limit increase. They have increasingly discussed a short-term debt increase, accompanied by the $1.5 trillion in spending cuts identified by budget negotiators. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R.,Va.) said the GOP would offer such a plan for avoiding default “in the coming days.”
“America will pay its bills and meet its obligations, and in coming days we will offer a path forward that meets the president’s request for a debt-limit increase, manages down the debt and achieves serious spending cuts,” Mr. Cantor said.
Getting a substantial deal matters as much for financial markets as the political fate of the nation’s leaders. Standard & Poor’s has said it could lower its AAA rating on U.S. government debt if it believes any deficit-reduction agreement is inadequate or the triggers put in place aren’t credible. A lower rating would boost borrowing costs for the government, businesses and households, possibly harming the recovery and roiling financial markets.
“What we mean by credible is something that we think people are actually going to do,” David T. Beers, managing director of sovereign and public finance ratings, said in a recent interview.