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Debt Deal Remains Elusive

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
From left: House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Speaker John Boehner, President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell meet in the White House on Monday to continue deficit talks.

Democrats such as Hoyer, who peeled away moderate Democrats to clear a bill to avert a government shutdown in April, urged Republicans at the table to consider revenues, and Obama made his case to the American people in his third press conference since Thursday.

“What we have said is, as part of a broader package, we should have revenues, and the best place to get those revenues are from folks like me who have been extraordinarily fortunate and that millionaires and billionaires can afford to pay a little bit more,” Obama said. “... I want to be crystal clear — nobody has talked about increasing taxes now.”

Despite the continued impasse, Obama and the top eight leaders in Congress have pledged to meet every day until they reach an agreement on a package to cut trillions of dollars from the federal debt in advance of an Aug. 2 deadline to raise the government’s borrowing capacity. The group will meet at 3:45 p.m. Tuesday, according to Reid.

Perhaps in a sign that leaders are less than optimistic about finding a deal by the end of next week — which Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Sunday suggested was necessary — Senate Republicans will convene earlier than usual for their weekly policy lunch Tuesday so that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can update his Conference on the ongoing talks. It’s possible McConnell will use the session to brief his Members on a potential “contingency” plan he mentioned on “Fox News Sunday” that would be employed if leaders cannot come to an agreement before their deadline.

The discourse Monday, with Obama offering a pointed attack on both Congressional Democrats and rank-and-file Republicans for their intransigence, was a far cry from the status of talks less than a week ago. Obama said he’s still reaching for a larger $4 trillion deal, even though Boehner on Saturday evening suddenly backed away from a sweeping $4 trillion plan that the president said he still wants.

Obama and Boehner hit the golf course last month, met privately at the White House two Sundays ago and were engaging in productive dialogue that many Hill sources indicated had given leaders a “framework” for a deal heading into the first “big eight” meeting Thursday. Since then, however, talks appear to have unraveled. Boehner barely spoke at Sunday’s session, leaving much of the talking to Cantor, according to Sen. Dick Durbin who was in the Cabinet room with leaders that day.

Heading into Monday’s meeting, Obama tried yet again to elevate himself above the Congressional fray, projecting an image of the “adult in the room” and saying it’s time to “eat our peas” and come to a compromise to avoid a default. He stood firm on his commitment to not sign any debt and deficit deal unless it extended past the 2012 elections.

“If we think it’s hard now, imagine how these guys are going to be thinking six months from now in the middle of election season where they’re all up. It’s not going to get easier,” Obama said in his third public statement since Thursday.

If Obama was trying to say that both sides were firm in their positions, then Boehner gave him the proof he needed Monday.

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