January 27, 2023

Deficit Talks Resuming, but Few Sound Hopeful

The two sides had said they would meet during the August recess, but the gathering will be the first in that time and is intended to take stock before Congress reconvenes in September. Neither side expressed optimism in interviews, with talks snagged on the same issues that killed past bipartisan efforts: Republicans’ demands for deeper Medicare cuts and President Obama’s insistence that they, in return, agree to higher taxes on the wealthy and some corporations.

The apparent lack of progress after months of intermittent meetings suggests that the effort could soon be sidelined, if not ended, as the president and Congress turn to the more pressing work of negotiating measures to finance the government and increase the nation’s borrowing limit before October deadlines. Without the spending measures, the government would shut down on Oct. 1; without a higher debt limit, the nation would be unable to pay bills after mid-October and would risk another financial crisis.

The goal when the bipartisan meetings began last winter, with Mr. Obama inviting Republicans to dinner after his second inauguration, was to agree on a multiyear fiscal deal before the fall that could ease efforts to pass annual spending bills and increase the debt limit. Now it is probably too late.

Even so, the discussion with the group of senators “is the only game in town right now,” said an administration official, who declined to be identified in speaking about the delicate talks. “I don’t know that they will be the final deciders at the end of the day. It might have to be a group that rises out of the House,” where Republicans have a majority.

The group includes eight Republicans who generally have not been central to the budget debates of the past three years, and are not members of either the Senate leadership or the key committees for spending and taxes. Mr. Obama turned to them, and others, after Republican leaders — Speaker John A. Boehner in the House and the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, who is facing a re-election fight in Kentucky — made clear that after three years of budget battles, dead ends and partial compromises, they were finished negotiating with the president.

The Republicans now engaged with the White House include Senators Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Bob Corker of Tennessee, John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Dan Coats of Indiana.

Initially, optimists on both sides suggested that the group would bring a fresh approach, as would two newcomers on Mr. Obama’s side — his chief of staff for the second term, Denis R. McDonough, and new budget director, Sylvia Mathews Burwell. But the Republican participants’ lack of institutional clout or following in the Senate have proved a handicap, and they have not proposed their own deficit-reduction outline in response to the one Mr. Obama put forward in April.

Hanging over the talks is the knowledge that any agreement is likely to hit a wall in the Republican-controlled House, where the majority is determined not to compromise with Mr. Obama and where the party’s leaders have been unable to pass even their own fiscal measures over the past year.

The White House meeting will be held three days after Mr. Boehner told Idaho Republicans at a fund-raiser in Boise that “we’re going to have a whale of a fight” over the debt limit.

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew informed Congress this week that without that increase by mid-October, the nation might be unable to pay existing obligations, including Social Security benefits, troops’ pay and creditors’ interest payments — ultimately risking default.

“I wish I could tell you it was going to be pretty and polite, and it would all be finished a month before we’d ever get to the debt ceiling,” Mr. Boehner said in Idaho. “Sorry — it just doesn’t work that way.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/29/us/deficit-talks-resuming-but-few-sound-hopeful.html?partner=rss&emc=rss