Budget, debt ceiling talks inch forward
With the president finally agreeing to negotiate on the budget and debt ceiling bills, it is probably only a matter of time before a deal is struck.
I detailed the outline of an agreement yesterday. It appears that Republicans will give Obama a "clean" short term debt ceiling increase - perhaps as little as 6 weeks - while keeping the government shut down. During those six weeks, there would be negotiations on a host of issues, including adjusting sequestration to make it more specific, some significant entitlement reform, further cuts in discretionary spending, and perhaps an agreement on how to proceed with tax reform, especially corporate taxes.
All, or most of this, would be wrapped up in nice, tidy bow and attached to a bill that re-opens the government and raises the debt ceiling another couple of trillion dollars.
But they don't refer to legislating as "sausage making" for nothing.
Mr. Boehner and his colleagues left the White House without speaking to waiting reporters, and quickly gathered in his Capitol suite for further discussion. Their debt limit proposal could come to a vote as soon as Friday.
Before the White House meeting, administration and Congressional Democrats said they were skeptical that House Republican leaders could pass the proposal. A large faction of Tea Party conservatives campaigned on promises never to vote to increase the nation's debt limit. And Congressional Democrats vowed to oppose any proposal that did not also fully finance a government now shuttered since the fiscal year began Oct. 1.
"We'll see what they're able to pass," said Mr. Obama's press secretary, Jay Carney.
Senate Democrats had their own White House meeting with Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. three hours before the House Republicans arrived, and the majority leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, declined to embrace the Republicans' debt limit proposal until he saw it. He told reporters that Democrats would not negotiate on further deficit reductions until House Republicans agreed to the measure passed by the Senate to finance and open the government through mid-November.
"Not going to happen," Mr. Reid said. "Open the government," he added. "There is so much pain and suffering out there. It is really tear-jerking, to say the least."
Of course it's "tear jerking," Harry - that's the way the president planned it.
Separately, members of the Senate's Republican minority, who are to meet with Mr. Obama on Friday, worked on a proposal for full-year government funding - at levels reflecting the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration, but giving agencies flexibility to shift money around. They are considering adding it to any short-term debt limit increase that the House might pass and send to the Senate.
Mr. Ryan said before the White House meeting that Republicans were now willing to formally negotiate with Senate Democrats over a long-term, comprehensive budget framework. The Republicans have resisted such a move since April, fearing that it would require compromises, like raising additional tax revenues, that would enrage the party's conservative base heading into the 2014 midterm elections.
Many House Republicans, leaving a closed-door party caucus earlier Thursday that at times grew contentious, said they would support their leadership's short-term debt limit proposal. But they said they would do so only if Mr. Obama agreed to negotiate a broader deficit reduction deal, with big savings from entitlement programs.
So yes, there are about 1000 ways this thing could blow up before it even comes to the floor. Much depends on President Obama's ability to convince his fellow Democrats, especially in the Senate, that entitlements need reforming and the modest beginning that the GOP wants to make is the least that can be done. And Speaker Boehner has to find a way to convince suspicious conservatives that this is the best they can hope for in the near term.
The markets are optimistic; the Dow rose over 300 points yesterday. But there has yet to be much fundamental movement by either side. Both the president and Boehner have inched back from their set in stone positions of not negotiating and attaching conditions to a debt ceiling bill. But until there is significant concessions by both, the outline of a deal will remain just that - an agreement that looks good on paper but failed the test of convincing the rank and file of both sides that this is as good as they're going to get.