Political Animal


July 08, 2011 8:00 AM Where things stand

By Steve Benen

President Obama, Vice President Biden, and the eight most powerful members of Congress talked at some length yesterday about how to craft a debt-reduction deal. Participants were pretty tight-lipped afterwards, but we have enough information to piece together where things stand as of this morning.

President Obama, for example, explained at the outset “that he would not accept any package that did not extend the debt limit through the 2012 elections.” That’s a sensible move — if this is going to be done, it’s crazy to think about doing it again next year in the heat of a national campaign.

At that point, Obama presented the so-called “Gang of 10” with three broad options about the eventual size of the agreement and which of the three the participants should try to reach: a more modest series of cuts ($2 trillion), a larger package in line with the Biden-led talks ($3 trillion to $3.5 trillion), or the more ambitious approach leaked by the White House on Wednesday night (roughly $4 trillion).

Each member was asked to express a preference. Most backed the largest, boldest option, but it’s important to note who dissented and why.

When it comes to targets, Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) appear to share a goal, if not a means to reach that goal.

Boehner enthusiastically endorsed Obama’s call for a far-reaching plan. Later at the Capitol, Boehner made his own pitch to reluctant Senate Republicans, arguing in a closed-door luncheon that securing the nation’s economic future requires bold action.

According to the NYT account, Boehner reportedly declared that he took the job of speaker to get things accomplished, not just to latch on to the title.

All of the Democratic leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), also backed the most ambitious approach.

But two of the participants balked.

Six of the eight expressed their support for the biggest deal, the aides said. But Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, favored the midrange $2 trillion, voicing doubts about how they could sell a $4 trillion deal to their rank and file, officials said, since it would involve tax increases.

This is critically important, because Cantor’s and Kyl’s opposition would mean the bold approach almost certainly can’t happen. They’re well aware of a fact that generally goes unsaid: rank-and-file Republicans claim to be concerned about the debt and deficit, and even claim it’s a “crisis,” but don’t really want to address the budget shortfall if it would mean additional revenue.

Regardless, if Cantor and Kyl had said they want to aim for the $4 trillion package, I’d still say it’s a long shot. If they’re not willing to even to try to reach the goal, I’d say this practically impossible.

Looking ahead, Harry Reid said a deal “must be sealed by the end of next week to give congressional leaders enough time to draft the legislation, submit it to congressional budget analysts and marshal the votes before the Aug. 2 deadline.” The president will reconvene the members at 1 p.m. on Sunday, and Obama told then to dress casually because “they are going to be there a while.”

Given the scope of the work, and the skepticism from leading Republicans, how anyone expects this to come together in the next few days is a mystery.

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 08, 2011 8:09 AM:

    So this may all hinge on Cantor and Kyl?

    An ambitious moronic asshole, and a blowdried proud old imbecile.

    Yeah, I feel confidant.


    PS: I think Cantor will do anything, even throw this nation into the toilet, if he thinks it would get him the Speaker position.

    PPS: SS and Medicare cuts had better NOT be on the table! There lies madness and defeat.

  • berttheclock on July 08, 2011 8:10 AM:

    Ah, ten powerful people.

    So glad, at least two Democrats, Biden and Pelosi, were allowed to sit in with the Republicans.

    Once again, the election of 2012 will come down to the Lesser of Two Evils.

  • John B. on July 08, 2011 8:13 AM:


    I'd think, if Ryan and Kyl recognized that this is THEIR "financial house," too, they'd want to fix this thing, too.

  • j on July 08, 2011 8:15 AM:

    Just the name 'Cantor' fills me with loathing, he really loves to stand with the powerful for a photo op but when he was in the last round of talks he ran like a scared rabbit, washed his hands of the talks and said it was up to Boehner, why did they let him slither back in?

  • stevio on July 08, 2011 8:17 AM:

    Without increases in revenue through tax increases these meetings will result in law doomed to crush the poor, the middle class, and woman. Three constituencies who elected Obama to office. He doesn't deserve a second term if he buckles under to pressure ending up labeled a DINO. We thought we elected a clear thinker. Wiretapping immunity and a nauseating blind eye to punishing those that tortured aside, slicing and dicing "entitlements" in lieu of taxing wealth is not only nauseating but could easily be had from a variety of other sources (read:GOP) who we did not elect to run the joint.

    It's appalling that Obama isn't looking out for our better self-interests in the same manner the GOP protects the rich. Appalling indeed...

  • Kathryn on July 08, 2011 8:18 AM:

    How can anybody with a pulse not feel hopeless? Let's be fair, Cantor blowdries too, the smarmy creep. When I see him on the tv machine, muting is not enough, channel must be changed....is there anything worse than smug and dumb?

  • DAY on July 08, 2011 8:20 AM:

    It used to be, back when I was mere stripling, "Campaign Season" began a few months before the First Tuesday in November.

    Now it begins as the hand comes off the bible, and the words "I swear to uphold the Constitution" still echo in the marbled halls.

  • Perspecticus on July 08, 2011 8:21 AM:

    Who says they need Cantor and Kyl? Canotr and Kyl are so powerful that they could gather enough votes, against their leadership, to scuttle any deal? If yes, we need a serious review of how in @#$% that happened.

  • Greg on July 08, 2011 8:32 AM:

    I hope Krugman nailed it with his 'deal they can't accept' quip.

    Hopefully the deal crumbles, Obama goes the 14th, and the GOP screws itself in 2012 by trying to impeach a president over their tantrum.

  • Danny on July 08, 2011 8:34 AM:

    Look at it from the bright side, Steve. If congress fails to raise the debth ceiling because Cantor and the tea-jihadists are unwilling to strike a deal with the republican speaker of the house, this whole fiasko will be promptly hung around the neck of the republican party, democrats will look like the only grownups in the room and the President will have ample cover to exercise the constitutional option.

    About as neat an outcome we could wish for and disaster for republicans.

    So what I said about a month ago still looks plausible to me: the clock is working for the president and the democrats.

  • bdop4 on July 08, 2011 8:37 AM:

    "Six of the eight expressed their support for the biggest deal, the aides said. But Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, favored the midrange $2 trillion, voicing doubts about how they could sell a $4 trillion deal to their rank and file, officials said, since it would involve tax increases."

    What this means is that the short and mid-range "deals" don't include tax increases.

    I hope Pelosi & Co. are as dead set against those as Cantor and Kyl are against the long-range "deal."

    Sorry, folks, but without some extra revenue, there is absolutely no way any jobs are going to be created.

  • Ladyhawke on July 08, 2011 8:37 AM:

    It's infuriating that we are dealing with yet another eleventh hour event because of the Republican Party obstruction and intransigence.

    In the senate, the Republicans grind everything to a halt with holds, filibusters and amendments. Nominations take months and just drag on indefinitely. Highly qualified candidates are blocked for purely partisan political gain.

    In the house they supposedly work two weeks and then take a week off in a shorter schedule than the 111th congress. And yet they have been in the majority for SIX MONTHS and have introduced ZERO JOBS BILLS. And Speaker Boehner has time to troll the twitter town hall with President Obama to ask HIM where the jobs are. It's a mystery to me why the media is not asking Speaker Boehner where the jobs are. I guess he is just seen as an innocent bystander.

    President Obama was right at the Wednesday press conference. Congress needs to do their job. He has done what the EXECUTIVE branch can do to try and increase jobs growth. The LEGISLATIVE branch also has a responsibility for job creation.

    It makes you wonder if basic government 101 is still being taught in schools. As Steve always says, this is no way to run a democracy in the 21st century.


  • rob on July 08, 2011 8:39 AM:

    I can't help but notice Steve you are not quoting Krugman today. Glass still half full huh? Well allow me:

    "July 7, 2011
    What Obama Wants
    On Thursday, President Obama met with Republicans to discuss a debt deal. We don’t know exactly what was proposed, but news reports before the meeting suggested that Mr. Obama is offering huge spending cuts, possibly including cuts to Social Security and an end to Medicare’s status as a program available in full to all Americans, regardless of income.

    Obviously, the details matter a lot, but progressives, and Democrats in general, are understandably very worried. Should they be? In a word, yes.

    Now, this might just be theater: Mr. Obama may be pulling an anti-Corleone, making Republicans an offer they can’t accept. The reports say that the Obama plan also involves significant new revenues, a notion that remains anathema to the Republican base. So the goal may be to paint the G.O.P. into a corner, making Republicans look like intransigent extremists — which they are.

    But let’s be frank. It’s getting harder and harder to trust Mr. Obama’s motives in the budget fight, given the way his economic rhetoric has veered to the right. In fact, if all you did was listen to his speeches, you might conclude that he basically shares the G.O.P.’s diagnosis of what ails our economy and what should be done to fix it. And maybe that’s not a false impression; maybe it’s the simple truth.

    One striking example of this rightward shift came in last weekend’s presidential address, in which Mr. Obama had this to say about the economics of the budget: “Government has to start living within its means, just like families do. We have to cut the spending we can’t afford so we can put the economy on sounder footing, and give our businesses the confidence they need to grow and create jobs.”

    That’s three of the right’s favorite economic fallacies in just two sentences. No, the government shouldn’t budget the way families do; on the contrary, trying to balance the budget in times of economic distress is a recipe for deepening the slump. Spending cuts right now wouldn’t “put the economy on sounder footing.” They would reduce growth and raise unemployment. And last but not least, businesses aren’t holding back because they lack confidence in government policies; they’re holding back because they don’t have enough customers — a problem that would be made worse, not better, by short-term spending cuts.

    In his brief remarks after Thursday’s meeting, by the way, Mr. Obama seemed to reiterate the Herbert Hooveresque view that deficit reduction is what we need to “grow the economy.”

    People have asked me why the president’s economic advisers aren’t telling him not to believe in the confidence fairy — that is, not to believe the assertion, popular on the right but overwhelmingly refuted by the evidence, that slashing spending in the face of a depressed economy will magically create jobs. My answer is, what economic advisers? Almost all the high-profile economists who joined the Obama administration early on have either left or are leaving.

    Nor have they been replaced. As The Wall Street Journal recently noted, there are a “stunning” number of vacancies in important economic posts. So who’s defining the administration’s economic views?

    Some of what we’re hearing is presumably coming from the political team, whose members seem to believe that a move toward Republican positions, reminiscent of former President Bill Clinton’s “triangulation” in the 1990s, is the key to Mr. Obama’s re-election. And Mr. Clinton did, indeed, rebound from a big defeat in the 1994 midterms to win big two years later. But some of us think that the rebound had less to do with his rhetorical move to the center than with the five million jobs the economy added over those two years — an achievement not likely to be repeated this time, especially not in the face of harsh spending cuts.

    Anyway, I don’t believe that it’s all political calculation. Watching Mr. Obama and listening to his recent statements, it’s hard not to get the impression that he is now turning for advice to people who really believe that the deficit, not unemployment, is the top issue facing America right now, and who also believe that the great bulk of deficit reduction should come from spending cuts. It’s worth noting that even Republicans weren’t suggesting cuts to Social Security; this is something Mr. Obama and those he listens to apparently want for its own sake.

    Which raises the big question: If a debt deal does emerge, and it overwhelmingly reflects conservative priorities and ideology, should Democrats in Congress vote for it?

    Mr. Obama’s people will no doubt argue that their fellow party members should trust him, that whatever deal emerges was the best he could get. But it’s hard to see why a president who has gone out of his way to echo Republican rhetoric and endorse false conservative views deserves that kind of trust."

    I am beginning to get a very queasy feeling that the triangulators in the White House are asking the rhetorical question: "So where are the liberals going to go?" The answer may be back into the hidy holes we used the last time the right wrecked the country.

  • Anonymous on July 08, 2011 8:44 AM:

    Without increases in revenue through tax increases these meetings will result in law doomed to crush the poor, the middle class, and woman.

    This is what the GOP wants.

    If congress fails to raise the debth ceiling . . . this whole fiasko will be promptly hung around the neck of the republican party

    While polls still show that most people blame Bush and the Republicans for the debt/deficit, the Rs are doing a pretty good job of hanging the current bad economy on Obama. I hope you're right, but I'm not very confident.

    THE tossiti - sounds like an Italian pasta salad. "The tossiti with arugula at Angelo's is fantastic."

  • j on July 08, 2011 8:44 AM:

    So all of the liberal websites are wringing their hands and complaining about what Obama is going to do, no one knows what he is going to do, they are complaining about what they 'think' he could do. If anyone really knows, please let us in on it.

  • Ron Byers on July 08, 2011 8:58 AM:

    I get a quesasy feeling whenever Democrats are asked to be outraged at Obama by Krugman and the other left leaning pundits. I wonder if they aren't trying to wipe me into a frenzy to help the administration argue the Democratic base is enraged.

    I will save my outrage until I see the final deal.

    Notice that Pelosi, not exactly a DLCer, is in favor of the large initiative.

    What I am most afraid of is that our leaders believe the American economy is permanently damaged and won't grow sufficiently to sustain existing debt.

  • Ron Byers on July 08, 2011 9:01 AM:

    "queasy" and "whipped." My 2 year old grandson wants the computer. I don't spell very well when distracted.

  • SadOldVet on July 08, 2011 9:03 AM:

    re j...

    While it is an accurate statement that no one knows what he is going to do, if progressives wait until it is a done deal it will be too late to object!

    If there is even the remote possibility that The Obomination is really proposing reductions in Social Security and Medicare, the time to raise objections is before it becomes a completed fact!

    If there is even the remote possibility that The Obomination is going to accept continued low tax rates and loopholes for the wealthy, the time to raise objections is before it becomes a completed fact!

    If there is even the remote possibility that The Obomination has really bought into the repuke fantasies of trickle down economics and debt being more important than jobs, the time to raise objections is before it becomes a completed fact!

  • berttheclock on July 08, 2011 9:03 AM:

    Well, j, if this were a thoroughbred race, one would look to the Daily Racing Form to check past performances. When, reading running line comments, one would see the "Obama horse veered to the right" in every major race". In the ACA, he threw out Single Payer and, then, Public Option before he hit the back stretch. Yet, as he won the race, the O-Bot Pom-Pomers cheered him into the Winner's Circle. In the credit card makeover, he tossed capping the interest rates, yet, Benen and Maddow proclamed it to be a "Mighty Victory".

    Now, we will be left with "Well, do you want a RepuG to appoint another Roberts to the court, or do you want Obama to appoint another Kagan or Sotomayor?" Of course, the dissastified and disillusioned among us will come back to the fold and vote for the latter. But, we will be sure to hold our collective noses as we do so.

    When, oh when, will we be able to proudly elect a Progressive Liberal Democrat to our Presidency?

  • rob on July 08, 2011 9:06 AM:

    "I will save my outrage until I see the final deal."

    Little late then isn't it? Besides, on blogs its more fun to speculate publicly and see whose right. Newspapers are fine for the day after.

  • berttheclock on July 08, 2011 9:06 AM:

    Naw, Mr Byers, I just assumed BlueGirl was visiting you for coffee, this AM. She and I suffer from the same "speed typing" problems.

  • Josef K on July 08, 2011 9:21 AM:

    As I've often said, the White House should have spelled out to the public what would happen if/when the debt ceiling was hit. That never happened, so the public thinks this is about future borrowing, not meeting current obligations.

    I've also frequently said I don't believe Boehner and McConnell could actually deliver enough votes to get a deal through. Cantor and Kyl were practically a given to oppose anything substantive.

    In the end, it probably never mattered whether the public understood what's at stake, nor whether Boehner and McConnell could control their caucus or not. From the outset the GOP's 'frame' went unchallenged, and therefore conjoined the deficit with the debt ceiling and programs like Social Security (none of which really have anything to do with the one another).

    Hence our looking at a truly unprecedented default in the offing in 25 days. Unless, that is, the President goes ahead and declares the 14th Amendment trumps everything, which might give the true believers in the GOP the vapors. Whether that move would mollify the market watchers is a separate issue entirely.

    Guess the coming days will be 'interesting'.

  • zandru on July 08, 2011 9:34 AM:

    Wanted: Democratic Candidates for President

    No kidding - I think someone or three of them should announce they are forming exploratory committees THIS WEEKEND.

    Credible candidates? Hillary Clinton, of course. Nancy Pelosi would be excellent, although I'd also love to see her as Speaker of the House again.

    Why all the fems? Because the men lack cojones these days.

  • bigtuna on July 08, 2011 9:48 AM:

    How some of these assholes got to be "the most powerful people in DC" is truly beyond me. Kyl? WTF???

    Anyway - I am always fascinated by the actual numbers - ie, votes. Cantor and Kyl are thinking pragmatically here. A "bold" initiative, whatever form, that involves tax increases, of any sort, will be a real problem in terms of getting votes. Check out Nate Silver's 538 stuff. I won't go through the details - see his blog, but a "big" effort would likely involve about 120 republican votes. Boner cannot sell anything that looks like taxes to about half his caucus, and of the remaining 120, about 15 are in vulnerable seats. THis means that the "bigger" the deal, whatever that means, requires more, and more dems, which means, more votes from the progressive wing. SO, while Cantor and Kyl are assholes, they probably can count, and realize that with more revenue, the more they have to snuggle with Nancy Pelosi. THat is, she might hold a few cards. I feel pretty sure that 80-90 dems are not going to cave in a big way on SS, etc., w/o some real solid guarentees.

    And right now, I would rather have her hold cards than Harry Reid or umm... the republican in democratic clothing --- Barack Obama.

    btw - it seems that the bigger the play, the LESS a campaign issue can be made of the whole thing - if they do a "big" deal now - it gives more "moderate" dems, repubs., etc., more ability to say " see, we did a deal on BOTH debt and deficit!" - undercutting some of the yahoo wing.

    There is a very tricky, and very clever, if played right, game afoot ....

  • June on July 08, 2011 2:02 PM:

    And so begins the blog panic. @Ron Byers, I'm with you.

    The Krugman piece is more opinion than fact, and Krugman is capable of being wrong in his opinion - for instance, Obama has long alluded to "the kitchen table" and "family budgets" when talking about the economy - he's been doing that since his campaign in 2008 - this is not a sudden swing to the right, nor does it mean he references it in the same limited way Republicans do. It's this kind of stuff that makes me disappointed in left pundits. A congenital urge to eat our own, often based on nothing more than fear of what might/could happen, which usually involves some version of "We are betrayed The sky is falling!"

  • Doug on July 08, 2011 10:22 PM:

    If Boehner wants the deal badly enough, he'll geek.
    Counting Democrats, there are enough votes in the House to pass any agreement that includes raising taxes. Boehner would need about 1/4 of the Republican caucus to support the deal to ensure its passage and I don't believe the Teabaggers aren't THAT powerful.
    I DO believe what's holding Boehner back is the fear of splitting his party. I don't doubt Teabaggers would do everything possible to remove him from the Speakership and, failing that, make his political life a hell on earth. They're good at that, you know.