Deficit talks Act XXII: Boehner walks out and Obama complains
Deficit reduction talks between the Obama White House and House Republicans broke down late Friday with Speaker John Boehner saying he was giving up for now and would focus further efforts on dealing with congressional Democrats.
With just 11 days left before the administration's self-imposed Aug. 2 deadline for an agreement to cut spending and/or increase taxes, Boehner wrote his GOP caucus members: "In the end, we couldn't connect."
But, of course, it's not the end to any budget talks. It's just the beginning of weekend media talking about the heat-wave struggle with both sides building dramatic bona fides for their political bases.
In Washington negotiations, such seemingly abrupt steps are often designed more for internal consumption by caucus members. And both sides know this. Both sides have expressed frustrations, and Boehner has announced previous departures only to return to the table.
Boehner is under intense pressure not to agree to any revenue increases (code word for taxes).
And if he appears to show public firmness now, it could help get his restive troops to swallow something distasteful later.
And the truth is, while the talks appear to focus only on the deficit now, politically the maneuvering and posturings are really more about setting up the other side for the 2012 election 473 days away.
The GOP wants to show the liberal Obama as pro-tax and stubbornly resistant to cutting spending and the $14.2-trillion national debt, up 35% since Obama took office. "The president just doesn't want to do what needs to be done to solve our problems," Boehner said Friday.
And Obama wants to portray Republicans as the party of rich people unreasonably resistant to increasing taxes paid by a wealthy minority. Talking to reporters late Friday, Obama sought to portray himself as the reasonable chief executive. "I've been left at the altar now a couple of times," he complained.
The Democrat said talks had produced a near-deal that, if anything, was "unbalanced in the direction of not enough revenue."
In an interview taped earlier for broadcast on Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor" Friday evening, Boehner said they were never near a deal. He expressed frustration to guest host Laura Ingraham: "The House has passed its bill. We did our work. We passed our bill. The Senate hasn't put a plan on the table. The president hasn't put a plan on the table."
He described the ongoing talks as "adult," "polite" and "not tense." But, Boehner added, "Everyone around the table is frustrated."
He likened the negotiations to a meeting of intergalactic cultures: "It's like two groups of people from two different planets who barely understand each other."
Boehner's historic House majority elected in November's midterms was dispatched to Capitol Hill in large part on a tide of dissatisfaction with the Democratic administration's first two years of spending and legislative priorities. Like Obama, those members will face voters again and need to show resolve.
Employers are worried about all the rules and regulations coming out of Washington, don't know where the future of the country is. And they want us to cut spending. And trying to deal with this White House, who just doesn't want to cut spending. They don't want to do what they have to do.
Obama invited congressional leaders to continue talks at the White House on Saturday. "We have run out of time," he said.
In the next act of this original summertime drama, both sides find more time to show how sincerely hard they are working for America.
-- Andrew Malcolm
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Photo: Boehner and Obama in March Credit: Olivier Douliery / MCT