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Silence on Obama Meeting Follows Uproar Over Debt Deal Rumors

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Barbara Mikulski called the reaction from Senate Democrats “volcanic” once they heard news of a possible deficit deal between President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner.

The White House and Boehner were quick to push back on the reports that they were closing in on a deal. “The report that we are close to a deal is incorrect,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters, while Boehner told talk radio host Rush Limbaugh that there is “no deal publicly, no deal privately; there is absolutely no deal.”

But the day’s events indicated that the “grand bargain” was back on the table after the Speaker previously walked away from a potential $4 trillion agreement, marking the most recent step in a process in which Democrats, especially in the Senate, have felt out of the loop.

Any package, grand or otherwise, will need the backing of Democrats, particularly in the Republican-controlled House, where many conservatives will vote “no” on any measure that raises the debt ceiling.

And all parties expressed reservations about forcing through an agreement that doesn’t yet have legislative language or a Congressional Budget Office score less than two weeks before an Aug. 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling and avert government default.

Moreover, Senate Democrats had already gotten on board with a framework provided by Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that would raise the debt limit through the 2012 elections in a series of three votes and immediately extend the ceiling by $100 billion as soon as Obama puts in his first request to do so.

The whirlwind of reports that Obama was moving toward a different option, given that Senate leaders had been poised to begin the legislative process on the Reid-McConnell deal as early as this weekend, caught Democrats off-guard at best and incensed them at worst.

“The responsible thing to do in the Senate, for the country, is to not have default and to embrace a big deal in concept, with a specific time period to try to implement it, to not try to have to vote on it,” Sen. John Kerry told reporters after the luncheon. “The virtue of the Reid-McConnell package is that it is not a kick down the road. It is, in fact, a very specific and very tough process, which the Senate and Congress would have to complete the task of the big deal. So you get the best of both worlds.

“The best thing for us to do is to embrace the McConnell-Reid approach,” the Massachusetts Democrat added.

Durbin, who is also a member of the Senate’s bipartisan “gang of six” that is working on its own deficit reduction package, expressed reservations Thursday about the Senate’s ability to approve a deal like the one reportedly in the works between Obama and Boehner.

“It would have a very difficult time passing the Democratic Senate,” he said of any large package of spending cuts without revenues. “I’m looking for balance, and balance means revenues as well as spending cuts.”

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