So, it all comes down to this: Who’s going to cave?
Both chambers were making a show Thursday of standing their ground in the debt ceiling debate, with House GOP leaders insisting on Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) deficit-cutting plan attached to a $900 billion debt limit increase, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) promising to kill it.
With just a few days before the Treasury Department says the U.S. needs a debt limit increase or risks default on its obligations, both sides were increasing the brinksmanship. But for all the partisan back-and-forth, the endgame comes down to whether Senate Democrats and the White House will swallow a short-term debt deal or whether House Republicans agree to a compromise that takes default off the table through 2012.
“The short-term is not a minor detail,” a senior Senate Democratic aide insisted. “It is the whole ballgame. We will never, ever pass it.”
House Republicans are likewise adamant about denying President Barack Obama one of his key demands — a debt limit increase that would last beyond the 2012 elections.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Thursday that Reid has a simple choice: either accept the Boehner bill or the earlier House-passed Cut, Cap and Balance bill that was soundly defeated in the Senate, or “suffer the economic consequences of default.”
Senators in both parties and the White House, however, have been trying for weeks to find a way to bridge the difference, and Democrats warn that Republicans are playing with fire if they don’t agree to a long-term debt limit increase.
“If that is the way it is, I think they are going to pay a huge price in the next election for their intransigence and recklessness,” Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said when told of Cantor’s remark.
Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he’s heard from leaders around the world — even Greece — who are worried about the risk of a default.
One potential solution Democrats and Obama have already said they are open to is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) fallback plan, which would give Obama the authority to raise the debt limit on his own but permit Congress to vote on resolutions of disapproval.
One possibility is marrying the McConnell language — or something like it — to a tweaked version of Boehner’s bill, aides in both parties said.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the approach could work for Democrats because it would take default off the table as a practical matter.
Durbin said Thursday that serious negotiations on a deal would not happen until the House voted on the Boehner plan. But House GOP leaders postponed a Thursday evening vote when it became clear that Boehner’s bill didn’t have the support to pass, and it was uncertain when the measure might come back to the floor.
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.