The key sticking point in the contentious debt ceiling negotiations has been the unwillingness of Republicans to make a single concession while they make huge demands of Democrats.
In a press conference today, President Obama explained that the two sides have reached an impasse because Republicans have taken a “my way or the highway” posture. Obama said he’s “bent over backward” to work with Republicans, offering cuts that have forced him to “take on significant heat from my party.” “I don’t see a path to a deal if they don’t budge,” he concluded.
Republican leaders responded by saying they have already sacrificed something: they’ve agreed to raise the debt ceiling. At a news conference with reporters today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said the key Republican concession is “the fact that we are voting — the fact that we are even discussing voting for a debt ceiling increase.” Cantor then insisted Democrats are “going to have to come meet us” if they want a deal before Aug. 2 — as if Democrats are the ones who won’t meet Republicans halfway.
Before heading to the White House for another round of debt talks, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) agreed that this is what he considers a “balanced” agreement: “Most Americans would say that a balanced approach is a simple one: the administration gets its debt limit increase, and the American people get their spending cuts.” In fact, a recent Pew poll found that 60 percent of Americans — and 50 percent of Republicans — say it is more important to keep Social Security and Medicare benefits as they are than to reduce the deficit.
Boehner and Cantor’s justification is extraordinary since GOP leaders have conceded that raising the debt ceiling is an economic imperative. At the same press conference today, Boehner said, “I agree with the President we can not allow our nation to default on our debt.” Just days ago, he said that failing to raise the limit by Aug. 2 “puts our economy in jeopardy, risking even more jobs.” Just yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) claimed “no one is talking about not raising the debt ceiling.”
So how can it be both an imperative and a gift that Republicans deign to give?
During the Bush presidency, Republicans voted to increase the debt limit 19 times without ever demanding cuts in exchange for their votes. But this time, Republicans have dug in their heels and made it clear that not ruining the global economy is the very most they’re willing to do to reduce America’s deficit — and even that comes at a heavy price.