June 21, 2021

McConnell’s Deal-Making Yields to Politicking

But as Congress trudges toward its next budget showdown, the Mr. Fix-It of Washington is looking more like its Invisible Man as he balances his leadership imperatives with his re-election.

“The House and the White House in the end will have to reach some kind of understanding on both these issues,” Mr. McConnell said last week as he sat in his spacious Capitol office and looked toward Sept. 30, when much of the federal government runs out of money, and mid-October, when it exhausts its borrowing authority. “I don’t intend to participate in any discussion, publicly or privately, that raises taxes or spends more than current law.”

That may prove to be more threat than destiny. The taciturn lawmaker is known for playing his cards extremely close to his vest, and when he has swooped in to resolve impasses, he has usually come in late — more a closer than a middle reliever. But his decision to stay out of the budget fray is one of the central reasons a resolution seems distant at the moment.

Democrats and, increasingly, Republicans are complaining that the minority leader’s absence from many of this year’s most intense and consequential negotiations — from the immigration overhaul to the budget to a fight over internal rule changes that almost paralyzed the Senate — has created a power vacuum and left Democrats without a bargaining partner.

They worry that Mr. McConnell is too hamstrung by political concerns in the Capitol and back home in Kentucky. In Washington, a rebellious crop of new Republican senators, led by Ted Cruz of Texas, has rejected his compromising brand of politics. Mr. Cruz has led the charge to tie any further government financing to gutting President Obama’s health care law, a movement that has angered many veteran Republicans and brought the federal government to the brink of a shutdown.

On Monday, Mr. McConnell gave the first indication of how he will figure into the budget standoff, saying that he would support a House bill that denies financing for the health care law, putting him at odds with Mr. Cruz, who has encouraged his colleagues to filibuster the bill so Democrats cannot amend it.

And in Kentucky, the junior senator, Rand Paul, has largely set the agenda for a Tea Party-infused Republican Party there.

Mr. McConnell is dealing with an unwanted primary challenge from a well-financed Tea Party candidate who keeps telling Kentucky voters the senator is an establishment pawn.

Mr. McConnell is leading his challenger by a large margin in internal polls. But after Tea Party candidates rose from nowhere in the past two elections to beat veteran senators, Mr. McConnell is leaving nothing to chance.

“He’s got an election,” said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader. “And that’s his No. 1 concern. I hope we can work together on things, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”

What worries members of both parties is that efforts to work around Mr. McConnell and bridge the partisan disagreements over the budget, health care and taxes have failed.

Early this year, just off his re-election triumph, Mr. Obama tried to reach out to Senate Republicans beyond the leadership. This group, called the “sounding board,” met repeatedly with the White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, and other senior White House officials and came away with nothing.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a member of that group, said what was lacking was the level of trust that would persuade the two sides to accept a deal that would be politically difficult for both sides’ most dedicated activists to swallow. He said that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Mr. McConnell trusted each other. No other partners have emerged in Mr. McConnell’s absence to fill “probably the biggest missing ingredient,” Mr. Graham said.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/24/us/politics/often-at-the-forefront-mcconnell-seems-to-step-back.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Boehner Seeking Democrats’ Help on Fiscal Talks

In meetings with Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders on Thursday after a session with Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew on Wednesday, Mr. Boehner sought a resumption of negotiations that could keep the government running and yield a deficit-reduction deal that would persuade recalcitrant conservatives to raise the government’s borrowing limit.

Much of the federal government will shut down as of Oct. 1 unless Congress approves new spending bills to replace expiring ones, and by mid-October, the Treasury Department will lose the borrowing authority to finance the government and pay its debts.

“It’s time for the president’s party to show the courage to work with us to solve this problem,” said Mr. Boehner, who argued that budget deals have been part of past agreements to raise the debt limit

But a bloc of 43 House Republicans undercut the speaker’s deficit-reduction focus, introducing yearlong funding legislation that would increase Pentagon and veterans spending and delay President Obama’s health care law for a year — most likely adding to the budget deficit. That bloc is large enough to thwart any compromise that does not attract Democratic support.

“Obamacare is the most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed in Congress,” said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana. “It is the most existential threat to our economy” that the country has seen “since the Great Depression, so I think a little bit of additional deficit is nothing,” he added.

Just five scheduled legislative days stand between the House and a government shutdown that has loomed for months. As of now, Republican leaders appear to have no idea how to stop it. House members are preparing for the worst. Representative Scott Rigell, Republican of Virginia, began circulating a 14-page fact sheet on the impact of a government shutdown.

Mr. Lew and Congressional Democrats held firm that they would no longer negotiate on raising the debt ceiling, which they see as the duty of the party in power in the House. And they made it clear to the speaker that they would never accept Republican demands to repeal, defund or delay Mr. Obama’s signature health care law. White House officials dismissed it as “a nonstarter.”

“I had to be very candid with him and I told him directly, all these things they’re doing on Obamacare are just a waste of their time,” said Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the Senate majority leader. “Their direction is the direction toward shutting down the government.”

“I like John Boehner,” Mr. Reid added. “I do feel sorry for him.”

Earlier this week, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 House Republican, proposed a two-step resolution to the fiscal impasse that was temporarily pushed into the background by Mr. Obama’s request for approval to initiate a military strike on Syria, since delayed.

Under Mr. Cantor’s plan, the House would have voted this week on a stopgap spending bill to keep the government operating through mid-December at the current level, which reflects the sharp across-the-board cuts known as sequestration. That bill would have a companion resolution to withhold all money for the health care law, but the Senate could simply ignore that resolution and approve the short-term spending bill.

Then the House would vote to raise the debt ceiling enough for a year of borrowing, but demand a year’s delay in carrying out the health care law.

Within 24 hours, the House’s most ardent conservatives revolted, declaring the defunding resolution a gimmick that fell well short of their drive to undo the health care law. House Democrats said they would oppose not only stripping the health care law of money but also a spending level that maintains sequestration.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/13/us/politics/at-meeting-with-treasury-secretary-boehner-pressed-for-debt-ceiling-deal.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

In Deficit Plan, Taxes Must Rise, President Warns

Declaring that an agreement is not possible without painful steps on both sides, Mr. Obama said that his party had already accepted the need for substantial spending cuts in programs it had long championed, and that Republicans must agree to end tax breaks for oil and gas companies, hedge funds and other corporate interests.

In a 67-minute news conference, Mr. Obama cast the budget battle as a tug of war between the interests of the rich — like owners of corporate jets, who he said get generous tax breaks — and those of the middle class, the elderly and children.

Directly challenging Republican leaders, Mr. Obama said, “Everybody else has been willing to move off their maximalist position — they need to do the same.”

At the same time, Mr. Obama, under assault from Republicans on the campaign trail for an unemployment rate that remains above 9 percent, asked voters to understand that the economic recovery would take time but said that Washington, even in its current financial straits, could still do more to help. He expressed support for extending a reduction in payroll taxes for an extra year, providing loans for road and bridge-building and approving trade pacts that could help spur exports.

While the president expressed hope for a budget deal before the government’s borrowing authority expires in early August, he scolded Republican lawmakers for putting off hard decisions until the 11th hour, saying that his daughters did not procrastinate that way with their schoolwork.

“Malia and Sasha generally finish their homework a day ahead of time,” the president said, in a tone of rising exasperation. “They don’t wait until the night before. They’re not pulling all-nighters.”

The House speaker, John A. Boehner, flatly rejected Mr. Obama’s call for new tax revenues, saying the “president’s remarks ignore legislative and economic reality.”

In a toughly worded statement, Mr. Boehner said the House would vote to raise the debt limit, as the White House has demanded, only if the administration agreed to a deal that contained deep spending cuts and no tax increases.

“The American people know tax hikes destroy jobs,” Mr. Boehner said. “They also know Washington has been on a spending binge for many years, and they will only tolerate a debt-limit increase if we stop it.”

Mr. Obama’s news conference, his first extended exchange with reporters since March, also touched on Libya, on which he offered a brisk defense of his decision not to seek Congressional authorization for the NATO-led air campaign, and on same-sex marriage, which he stopped just short of endorsing as a legal right.

But the president’s combative remarks on the budget commanded most of the attention, signaling that he had fully entered the fray. On Monday, he took over stalled talks led by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., meeting with Senate Republicans and Democrats, and on Wednesday he met with the Democrats.

So far, the president’s involvement seems mainly to have dramatized the gulf between the White House and the Republicans on fiscal priorities.

By all accounts, the round of negotiations steered by Mr. Biden made significant progress in identifying spending cuts and revenue-generating items. But with the Aug. 2 deadline looming for the expiration of the government’s borrowing authority, the partisan maneuvering on both sides has increased.

Senate Republicans have talked about a short-term increase in the debt ceiling, betting that the White House will accept spending cuts, with no tax increases, rather than face two votes on the issue before the 2012 election. Mr. Obama is taking aim at tax policies that benefit the rich as a way to pressure Republicans. Asserting that chief executives and hedge fund managers are paying the lowest tax rates since the 1950s, before he was born, the president, casting the issue in populist terms that some conservatives said veered into class warfare, said they could afford to pay more.

“You’ll still be able to ride on your corporate jet,” Mr. Obama said. “You’ll just have to pay a little more.”

Under Democratic proposals, owners of corporate jets would have to write off the aircrafts’ cost in fewer years, which would generate an estimated $3 billion for the Treasury over a decade. Hedge funds and private equity investors would pay higher capital gains tax on their earnings. Phasing out tax deductions and credits for oil and gas companies could raise nearly $40 billion, economists said.

Even if all these changes to the tax code were accepted, they would still amount to only a sliver of the $4 trillion in savings that Mr. Obama has said he wants to achieve. But refusing to increase revenues, he asserted, would necessitate cuts in programs that award college scholarships, finance the National Weather Service and medical research, and improve food safety.

“I’ve said to some of the Republican leaders: you go talk to your constituents, the Republican constituents, and ask them, are they willing to compromise their kids’ safety so that some corporate-jet owner continues to get a tax break?” Mr. Obama said. “I’m pretty sure what the answer would be.”

Citing the hours of meetings he and Mr. Biden had held with leaders from both parties, Mr. Obama seemed particularly piqued by Republican criticism that he had failed to show leadership. Noting that the House is in recess this week, and the Senate is scheduled to be gone next week, he said he had been hunkered down in the White House, “doing Afghanistan and Bin Laden and Greek crisis.” If Congress was serious about a deal, he said, it should cancel its breaks.

There were signs on Capitol Hill that his words had struck a nerve. Nine Republican senators announced that they would object to a recess during the Fourth of July week. Late Wednesday it appeared that Democratic leaders would go along and keep the Senate in session next week.

Wary of spooking financial markets, Mr. Obama stopped short of saying that Aug. 2 was a drop-dead date for a deal. But he dismissed those who argue that the government can ignore the debt limit by paying some bills and not others.

“This is the equivalent of me saying, ‘You know what, I will choose to pay my mortgage, but I’m not going to pay my car note,’ ” Mr. Obama said. “Or, ‘I’m going to pay my car note, but not my student loan.’ ”

Jennifer Steinhauer and Carl Hulse contributed reporting.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d19ae4cd1fbdd1404a157ec29c0e4f8a