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GOP Leaders Come Out Swinging on Debt

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Updated: 11:25 a.m.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate sharply escalated their rhetoric over raising the debt limit, charging that President Barack Obama is to blame for an impasse in the talks.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused the White House of offering a package of gimmicks instead of real cuts to achieve a debt ceiling hike, and he said the GOP won’t go along.

“The president has presented us with three choices: smoke and mirrors, tax hikes or default,” the Kentucky Republican said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “Republicans choose none of the above. I had hoped to do good, but I refuse to do harm.”

“This debt limit increase is his problem,” Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) said Tuesday, adding that “the president talks a good game when it comes to putting [entitlements] on the table ... [but] they can’t quite pull the trigger.”

McConnell said the behind-the-scenes proposal from the White House would have been “at most about a couple of billion dollars in cuts up front with empty promises of more to follow.”

McConnell reiterated that Republicans are unwilling to raise taxes. “Raising taxes is the last thing our economy needs,” he said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor agreed and said Republicans have made it clear that they are unwilling to entertain tax increases as part of the debt limit. “If that’s what he’s looking for, we’re not going there,” the Virginia Republican said.

The heightened vitriol from Republicans is in marked contrast to previous statements in which they have struck a more measured tone, praising the efforts of Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden to cut a deal while still staking out a tough negotiating stance.

But with the two sides deeply divided, Republicans were not only becoming increasingly harsh in their messaging but began calling for the White House to put things back on the negotiating table that had been ruled out previously.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) called for passage of a balanced budget amendment as part of the debt limit deal. “We have to make sure we don’t get into this problem again,” McCarthy said in explaining his support.

Likewise, House Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) argued that both the balanced budget amendment and repeal of Obama’s health care law should be in play as well. “We want to put those back on the table,” she said.

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