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House and Senate leaders are setting themselves up to fail.
Senate Democrats have long been planning for this week’s political show vote designed to defeat the House Republican budget plan, and now the House GOP has its own show planned — a stand-alone debt ceiling vote as soon as next week with the express purpose of killing it.
Both sides are trying to score political points while maximizing their leverage in the bipartisan talks led by Vice President Joseph Biden. However, doubts remain as to whether that group can reach a long-term deal before the Aug. 2 deadline for raising the debt ceiling.
The Biden discussions continued Tuesday, with negotiators emerging after nearly three hours and saying they had made progress.
Biden predicted the group could “pretty quickly” agree to more than $1 trillion in deficit reduction as a down payment and discuss triggers that would achieve a total of $4 trillion.
However, Biden increased pressure on Republicans in the talks by insisting that revenues have to be a part of the deal. GOP leaders have said tax increases or any revenue raisers that look like tax hikes cannot be part of a final agreement.
“I made it clear today … revenues are gonna have to be in the deal, and everybody knows that at the end of the day, we’re going to have to make some really tough decisions on some of the big-ticket items,” he said.
But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said, “The House will not support tax hikes.” He said he’s “confident” they can agree on at least $1 trillion in spending cuts.
The politically charged debt limit vote in the House is intended to show Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama how serious rank-and-file lawmakers are about the need to couple significant spending cuts with any debt ceiling increase.
Plus, Republicans are eager to vote against the debt limit hike, which is sure to split Democrats.
Some 114 House Democrats, led by Rep. Peter Welch (Vt.), have been urging Congress to take up a clean debt ceiling vote.
Senate Democrats are ripping the House plan to kill the debt limit hike as “irresponsible” — warning of consequences for the stock market and the world.
“I think it sends a terrible message to the international community,” Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said Tuesday. “They are bringing up something that they know is going to fail.”
Of course, Reid is doing the same thing to the House-passed budget.
Reid is eager to spotlight what he termed the “Medicare-killing” budget blueprint written by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) because he believes Ryan’s Medicare plan is “quickly becoming the defining principle for the Republican Party.”
Reid added that Republicans are “tripping over themselves” trying to explain their position.
“One Republican even went so far as to say ‘Thank God’ for the Ryan budget,” before writing an opinion piece saying he would vote against it, Reid said in a reference to Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.).
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, dismissed this week’s expected series of budget votes as an interesting sideshow to the negotiations led by Biden.
“That is where a real discussion is occurring, not political gamesmanship such as what will be to some extent involved in here in the Senate this week,” he said.
The House plan for a show vote on the debt limit, however, had McConnell’s blessing.
“I think it’s important for the markets and for everybody to understand that Congress doesn’t intend to raise the debt ceiling without doing something about spending,” said McConnell, who predicted few would vote for it. “My guess is there’s not going to be many Members left who think that’s a good idea.”
As both Democratic and Republican leaders have put the focus on the Biden talks, several rank-and-file lawmakers said they don’t expect the discussion to yield a final package because the president is not directly negotiating.
“I think we’re making it pretty clear to the vice president and to others that this is a difficult matter for our side, that the president needs to lead,” Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said.
Lawmakers involved in the Biden negotiations include Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Cantor, House Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and House Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
For the time being, GOP leaders appear willing to let the Biden negotiations continue instead of trying to coalesce around another package. Republicans have only said that mandatory spending caps and entitlement reform must be a part of the final package and that the total debt limit increase should be less than the size of the spending cuts.
Whatever deal is reached, Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) will likely have his problems getting a consensus within the GOP Conference. GOP leaders are in a particularly sensitive spot following the public bruising that many of their Members have gotten following the dustup over Ryan’s controversial budget.
Some lawmakers say the Biden group may ultimately have to settle for a short-term debt limit deal rather than swallowing a $2 trillion debt limit hike in one fell swoop. Indeed, Boehner’s speech earlier this month laid out a path for doing so. As long as a short-term debt limit hike of, say, $500 billion was attached to $500 billion or more in spending cuts, that would meet Boehner’s demands and provide several months of breathing room.
Jessica Brady contributed to this report.