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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.

Reid said discussions on the debt and deficit would take place behind the scenes, including an expected Senate Democratic Conference meeting Wednesday with the president and vice president.

Plus, Democrats finally plan to unveil their own budget blueprint although they still have no intention of holding a markup or bringing it to the floor for a vote.

"I think a legitimate question was asked by the Republicans: 'Where do the Democrats stand?' Well, we're going to show them," said Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), a member of the Budget Committee.

While Reid was canceling recess, McConnell issued a last-minute invitation to Obama to meet Thursday afternoon with Republicans so he could hear how strongly Republicans oppose voting for more tax revenue.

Republicans skewered Obama for declining the invitation and instead heading for planned fundraisers in Philadelphia that afternoon. But it turns out some Republicans didn't really want to stick around either.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ranking member of the Finance Committee, staged a boycott of a 3 p.m. "mock markup" of the South Korea free-trade agreement because he said it would interfere with GOP Senators' plans to leave town for what was left of their Fourth of July weekend.

If the markup had been scheduled for 10 a.m., or after the holiday, it would have been fine, Hatch said. He blamed the White House, accusing it of a plot to ram through trade assistance for displaced workers.

"We're not going to be jammed!" he exclaimed, arguing he was sticking up for the minority's rights to fully debate the trade pact.

On the larger debt issue, Republicans believe they are winning the day with their message that Democrats are holding a debt deal hostage to raise taxes in a recession; Democrats likewise appear convinced that Republicans can't sustain their opposition to closing corporate loopholes.

The attacks are growing increasingly personal, with Senate Democrats last week spotlighting a $126 million tax break for racehorses authored by McConnell that they dubbed the "Bluegrass Boondoggle."

Several rank-and-file Democrats said they are happy to see leadership set in motion a tougher strategy intended to force Republicans to defend tax breaks for yachts, corporate jets, hedge fund managers and oil companies while they propose steep cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

"I think there has been a deference to the group of six and deference to the vice president's team," said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who spotlighted the horse-racing tax break. "They have reached impasses, and it's important that we push forward hard on the legislative front now and that we not have a deal ... that leaves walled-off programs for the wealthy and well-connected."

This week, Senate Democrats may hold a vote on a nonbinding resolution calling for an end to tax breaks for luxury items and profitable businesses, Democratic aides said.

One factor that Senators in both parties say could spur a compromise is pressure from Wall Street. Top Democrats, including Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), reached out to Wall Street executives last week to urge them to pressure the GOP on the importance of raising the debt ceiling to avert a financial crisis.

But Corker said he was surprised when he talked with Wall Street at how much people there are dismissing the threat of an impasse.

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