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July 10, 2011 8:10 AM Boehner abandons his own debt-reduction goal

By Steve Benen

President Obama and congressional Democrats were prepared to move forward on an ambitious Grand Bargain, which would have achieved more than $4 trillion in debt reduction over the next decade. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) embraced the White House’s goal and believed he was a strong enough leader to deliver on the agreement.

Yesterday, Boehner realized he’s not nearly as strong a Speaker as he’d hoped.

House Speaker John A. Boehner abandoned efforts Saturday night to cut a far-reaching debt-reduction deal, telling President Obama that a more modest package offers the only politically realistic path to avoiding a default on the mounting national debt.

On the eve of a critical White House summit on the debt issue, Boehner (R-Ohio) told Obama that their plan to “go big,” in the speaker’s words, and forge a compromise that would save more than $4 trillion over the next decade, was crumbling under Obama’s insistence on significant new tax revenue. […]

Obama, at least, was willing to make that leap and had put significant reductions to entitlement programs on the table. But on Saturday, Boehner blinked….

The conventional wisdom suggests Republicans, who falsely believe we’re in the midst of some sort of debt crisis, are desperate to slash the deficit and bring the budget closer to balance. The conventional wisdom is, and has been, entirely wrong — Republicans care about keeping taxes on the wealthy low. Every other priority is a distant second.

Obama was willing to go big, even at the risk of infuriating his own base. In the process, the GOP was presented with a test: when faced with a historic opportunity on an issue they claim to care about, are Republicans willing to accept some sensible, popular concessions in order to cut the debt by more than $4 trillion? Is the GOP ready to rise to the occasion?

Yesterday, Republican leaders replied, “No, we’re not.”

Of course, this appears to take one possible solution to the debt-ceiling standoff off the table, but it doesn’t change the fact that a solution is still a necessity.

As talks at the White House reconvene today, focus will shift towards a $2.4 trillion package, more in line with the plan produced by the Biden-led talks. This should, in theory, be easier to achieve, though you’ll recall that GOP leaders abandoned those negotiation two weeks ago, when Democrats said the agreement couldn’t be 100% to 0% in Republicans’ favor.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • c u n d gulag on July 10, 2011 8:17 AM:

    Boner is a gutless punk, and an atrocious leader.

    And he showed how serious the GOP is about the D-E-B-T:

    Zip, zero, zilch, nothing, nodda, nichts, 0, neechevo...

    Let nation sink, as long as taxes on the rich don't rise!

  • Josef K on July 10, 2011 8:22 AM:

    I've been saying for awhile now that there's no reason to think Boehner (and McConnell, come to it) will or even can deliver a deal that their caucus will accept.

    One can only hope this means the Democrats recognize their bargaining position has improved and actual revenue increases are to be included here. One hopes, but suspects it'll be illusionary if they are.

  • j on July 10, 2011 8:26 AM:

    Boehner and his ilk are just looking at the next election, it is the one and only thing for them. They really do not care about the debt, they only want to court the teabaggers.

  • Danp on July 10, 2011 8:41 AM:

    I will be shocked if Republicans accept anything that approaches increased taxes. I hope Obama and Dems demand either a clean bill or some significant loophole eliminations. And I would love it if Obama now segued from "corporate jets" to "hedgefund manager tax subsidies". He might also stress the fact that it is fundamentally unfair that work is taxed more than investment, especially in an age when Republicans talk about FICA contributions as though they are merely spent revenue, which never included a promise to fund retirements of its payees.

  • Maritza on July 10, 2011 8:42 AM:

    Couple of thoughts:

    1. Obama called the Republican's bluff on dealing with the debt and the GOP backed down. This shows to the American people that the Republicans are NOT serious about debt at all and that keeping tax cuts for the rich is MORE important than the debt.

    2. By backing down Republicans have LOST the "deficit hawk" mantle to Obama.

    3. Democrats are breathing a sigh of relief today because now Social Security and Medicare benefit cuts are off the table now that the "grand bargain" is dead. Nancy Pelosi will see to that.

    4. One compromise that can occur is if Democrats agree to the Republicans' pledge of no new "net" tax revenue if serious job creation measures are INCLUDED in the debt deal such as an infrastructure bank, payroll tax holiday for employees are extended through 2012 and a payroll tax holiday for employers who hire workers is started. Also, the start of these cuts should begin in 2014 rather than 2013 because the economy is so precarious.

  • Live Free or Die on July 10, 2011 8:49 AM:

    Obama should tell the GOP to blow him, and say that he will use the constitutional option to order Geitner to start paying our bills.

  • Brenna on July 10, 2011 8:57 AM:

    Didn't David Brooks say if the republicans didn't take this deal then they're not fit to govern?

    Watch David Brooks back peddle in 3...2...1

    So, it's okay for Americans who were hurt the worst by GWBs failed policies to take draconian cuts, but the rich, who can easily afford to help out, don't have to contribute a dime. In fact, let's give them so extra subsidies, because they're going to create some jobs any year now.

  • Celui on July 10, 2011 8:58 AM:

    These early commenters are clearly identifying the now-deepening hole into which the Republicans have placed themselves as a result of openly pandering to the irrational TeaPartiers. Look at the suggestions proffered by 'Maritza' above. As I see it, it's not only an opportunity to demand that the Republicans seriously adopt meaningful revenue increases, seriously recognize the cliff off which they are condemning the elderly and poor to jump, seriously acknowledge that their policies are beneficial only to the wealthy while destroying the backbone of the economy, the middle class, and seriously 'get out of the kitchen.' Obama and his crew need to exploit this weekend's game of chicken for the benefit of the entire country's present and future promis. Captcha says "vineri are"; I believe that all vineri are worthwhile, especially the reds from Burgundy.

  • eserwe on July 10, 2011 9:01 AM:


    "Barack, you gotta give me a Mulligan on this one. My caddy's run away with my putter."

  • John B. on July 10, 2011 9:08 AM:

    What Maritza said, especially re (1). I'd read somewhere last week that the "go big" proposal was bluff-calling on the Dems' part, designed to reveal that the Republicans really aren't bargaining in good faith. For better or for worse, this is Obama politics at work, and has been all his political career.

    I'm struck anew by the sad irony that the "no tax increase" stance of the TEA-partiers ends up benefiting the very hedge fund managers and investment bankers that the TEA partiers are persuaded run Washington. The further sad irony: There'd be no political risk if the GOP would go along with raising taxes and/or closing loopholes on said managers and bankers--indeed, if they were to do so and not be shy about claiming credit for it, they'd stand a better chance in the general elections. But yelling slogans are easier than explaining.

  • TominMa on July 10, 2011 9:47 AM:

    Keeping taxes on the wealthy low is a secondary goal. Creating a debt crisis that will force a Democratic administration and Congressional delegation to participate in dismantling the "welfare state" (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) is the real goal. The GOP is being run by ideologically driven, libertarian, ultra-wealthy people like the Koch brothers, the Coors etc. Not Wall Street financiers to whom default is poison and certainly not old ladies with teabags on their sunhats or wacky preachers. The discipline of the GOP congressional caucus, and the centralization of GOP campaign finances hardwires the GOP into their control. In the GOP, the normal self-preservationist calculations of individual congresspeople has no more influence on the actions of the caucus. If they don't go along, they will be out of office. If they have to take a vote that makes them unpopular with the electorate, they will make that vote. They are each entirely replaceable.
    The debt crisis is the last best chance to repeal the welfare state for decades to come, in their eyes. They are willing to sacrifice their majority in 2012 if they can make structural changes that will advance those programs toward UNsustainability in 2011.

  • labman57 on July 10, 2011 7:56 PM:

    Before the debt limit talks had even begun, Boehner and McConnell were continually uttering the following declaration: "ANY form of tax-related revenue increase is off the table. Now let's begin to negotiate".

    The Republican concept of compromise -- a key component of any meaningful negotiation -- is for the opposition to discard their own beliefs and completely embrace the conservative point of view.

    Case in point: Cantor throws a tantrum and leaves the bargaining table, Boehner parrots the same fact-devoid talking points (e.g., "Americans are opposed to any form of tax increase"), and their Congressional GOP colleagues hold the nation hostage.

    And why? Because the Democrats refuse to abandon an economic tenet that progressives regard as essential and the conservatives oppose (i.e., returning to pre-Bush era federal income tax levels and/or ending tax breaks for corporations that have been earning record profits) while simultaneously demanding that Democrats accept a fiscal component that conservatives regard as essential and progressives oppose (namely, significantly modifying or eliminating Medicare and/or Social Security).

    Talk about dogmatically painting yourself into a corner ...

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