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Debt Deadlock Inspires Partisan Derision

Tom Williams/Roll Call
GOP members of the Senate Finance Committee (from left) Sens. Mike Enzi, Jon Kyl, John Thune, Orrin Hatch and Pat Roberts stage a press conference Thursday rather than attend a panel meeting to consider trade agreements. The group complained the Finance event was not planned to accommodate the minority panel members’ schedules.

The gridlocked debt talks not only spoiled the Senate's July Fourth recess but also have both parties amping up the partisan taunts and stunts as Senators grow increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for a deal.

With Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refusing to give in to Democrats' demand for higher taxes on the wealthy and businesses, it remains unclear how Congress will avert a possible debt default and a broad government shutdown a month from now.

While aides suggested a deal could still emerge from the ashes of the bipartisan talks led by Vice President Joseph Biden — perhaps with the GOP agreeing to eliminate a fairly small package of corporate tax breaks such as ethanol — Senators themselves seemed downright gloomy.

"There's not going to be a grand bargain in my opinion," Sen. Bob Corker said after President Barack Obama scolded the GOP at his press conference last week. "At this moment, we're headed for a train wreck."

The Tennessee Republican said Senators in both parties are looking for an elusive Plan B solution to the debt ceiling that would avert disaster, but he suggested that the president seems to be in campaign mode. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has warned the U.S. might default on its debt beginning Aug. 2.

"Yesterday was political theater and we all know it," Corker said of the president's Wednesday press conference. "I don't think when people are negotiating in good faith they are up there publicly bashing each other."

But the bashing has been coming from both sides.

The point-counterpoint started with each party trading insults over who was failing to show "leadership" and then spilled over into everything else.

By the end of the week, recess plans, including a Congressional delegation trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, were dashed after Obama — and some Senate Republicans — challenged Congress to cancel the recess to work on the debt limit impasse.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) agreed that the issue was too urgent to go home — only to schedule a resolution authorizing the war in Libya for the floor, given the absence of a deal on the debt. Freshman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) objected, in his second floor stunt of the week.

Corker ripped Reid's move on Libya: "We're going to burn the week up talking about an issue that has nothing whatsoever to do with the most pressing issue in our country right now, which is the debt ceiling, and it speaks to how dysfunctional this whole place is."

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