After a full day of negotiations at the White House and on Capitol Hill, it appears Washington is no closer to raising the debt ceiling than it was when the day began. If anything, the situation may be worse.
The day began with a meeting at the White House led by President Obama and featuring House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The congressional leaders then left for Capitol Hill, where they held another hour-long session in Boehner’s office. Finally, just Reid and Pelosi met in Pelosi’s office.
The White House meeting ended with little progress toward getting the debt ceiling raised. The news from the Capitol Hill meetings is the same story.
In a statement released late Saturday evening after the day of meetings was over, Reid excoriated the other side.
“I am deeply disappointed in the status of negotiations with my Republican colleagues,” he said in a statement. “I hope that Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell will reconsider their intransigence. Their unwillingness to compromise is pushing us to the brink of a default on the full faith and credit of the United States.”
The breakdown still appears to be over the size of the debt limit increase. Democrats have demanded that any deal to raise the debt ceiling keep the issue off the legislative agenda through the end of 2012. Republicans have suggested a short-term rise in the debt limit that would require Congress to revisit the issue next year.
The new wrinkle is Boehner’s plan to split the increase into two parts. The Speaker has proposed raising the debt ceiling by $3 trillion in two steps of $1.5 trillion each, with the increases tied to equal or greater budget cuts. In Boehner’s vision, there would be one vote now and one next year. A highly-placed Democratic source familiar with the negotiations told TPM Democrats are open to the theory, but reject the plan if it requires a second vote on raising the debt limit next year.
Instead, the source said, Democrats have proposed a version of the scheme that would raise the ceiling enough to cover next year now, and then address another round of cuts in a second vote later to cover the increase as Republicans have demanded. The source said Republicans said no to that idea.
Boehner seems to recognize how desperate the situation is as the days count down toward an early August default. He called his caucus after the White House meeting Saturday morning and said he was working to get the outlines of a deal by mid-Sunday before the Asian markets open.
But Reid says Republicans are not willing to make a compromise deal with Democrats, despite the dire consequences both parties seem to believe await the country if a bargain of some sort is not made soon.
“I have said repeatedly, including last night and again today, that I will not support any agreement that fails to raise the debt ceiling though the end of 2012,” Reid said. “Anything less than that will fail to provide the certainty that the markets — and the world — are looking for, risking an immediate downgrade of America’s credit rating.”
“We have run out of time for politics,” Reid said, echoing President Obama’s line from Friday night. “Now is the time for cooperation.”
Update: Boehner spokesperson Michael Steel responded to Reid’s statement calling out his boss:
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.This post has been updated since it was first posted.