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Debt talks crisis: Boehner, Obama trading blame

WASHINGTON — Hopes for a historic budget deal to increase the federal debt limit unraveled Friday when House Speaker John Boehner abruptly withdrew from talks, provoking a furious response from President Barack Obama, who summoned political leaders for an emergency weekend meeting today.

Boehner, who has been under enormous pressure from the conservatives in the House Republican majority, blamed the breakdown on Obama's insistence that any deal include new revenues as well as spending cuts. Boehner said they two had "different visions of our country."

The end of the Boehner-Obama talks means that the effort to prevent a U.S. default will enter a new phase. Instead of using the crisis of a debt ceiling deadline to force both sides to devise a large-scale deficit reduction package, the emphasis now will be on simply ending the crisis before Aug. 2, which both the White House and the Republican leadership have said is essential.

But even the goal of lifting the ceiling is fraught with partisan traps. Obama is insisting that the debt ceiling extension be large enough to ensure that the issue does not arise again until after the 2012 elections, while Republicans would like to see the president be forced to seek extensions repeatedly.

"We have now run out of time," Obama said, demanding that the Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress attend a White House meeting at 11 a.m. today to explain what they will do to avoid default.

"We've got to get it done. It is not an option not to do it," Obama said.

Negotiators planned to work through the weekend to devise a backup proposal to be presented to the House and Senate by Monday.

Obama held an unscheduled news conference in which he scolded Republicans, complaining leaders are unwilling to take on the party's most conservative voices to reach a deficit reduction deal that voters favor.

"It's hard to understand why Speaker Boehner would walk away from this kind of deal," Obama said. "This was an extraordinarily fair deal. A lot of Republicans are puzzled as to why it could not get done. In fact, there are a lot of Republican voters who are puzzled."

"Can they say 'yes' to anything?" Obama asked.

Boehner and Obama disclosed considerable details Friday in an effort to seize the narrative that is almost certain to frame the 2012 election.

Obama said his first inkling that the talks were in trouble came Friday when he couldn't get Boehner to return his phone call. He said he knew Boehner was under intense pressure from conservatives in the GOP. "I've been left at the altar now a couple of times," Obama said.

Boehner, holding his own unscheduled news conference, repeated his critique of the president and his aides, equating their bargaining approach to "a bowl of Jell-O."

Boehner said he would begin working with the Senate on a new path.

"I'm confident that Congress can act next week and not jeopardize the full faith and credit of the United States government," he said.

After days of denying a deal was at hand, Boehner said it was the president who reneged on an emerging agreement.

"There was an agreement with the White House for $800 billion in revenue. It's the president who walked away from his agreement and demanded more money at the last minute," Boehner said.

Boehner's announcement capped a tumultuous week in Washington as proposals ricocheted across the capital. But Congress and the White House were never able to break the impasse.

Republicans have demanded substantial budget cuts in exchange for their vote to raise the debt ceiling, but polls show Americans increasingly prefer the "balanced approach" Obama has sought: reducing deficits with a combination of spending cuts and new taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

Boehner met with his rank-and-file Friday morning but said nothing of his pending announcement. He circulated a letter late Friday to the entire House GOP membership, explaining his decision to walk away from the talks. "I have decided to end discussions with the White House," Boehner said in the letter.

"The president is emphatic that taxes have to be raised," Boehner said. "In the end, we couldn't connect. Not because of different personalities, but because of different visions for our country."

Republican officials said a week of renewed discussions broke down as the White House insisted on revenues from new taxes. Republicans were interested in proposals for overhauling the tax system advanced by the White House, but insisted on making the spending cuts first. That stance caused a revolt among Democrats once it was floated by the White House midweek. The Democratic-led Senate particularly resisted.

A visibly exasperated Boehner told reporters, "I take the same oath of office as the president of the United States, I've got the same responsibilities as the president of the United States, and I think, for both of us, to do what's in the best interest of our country.

"This is a serious debate. It's a debate about jobs, it's a debate about our economy, and frankly it's also a big debate about the future of our country."

But Democrats harshly criticized Boehner's withdrawal.

"Speaker Boehner's adult moment is long overdue," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., "Our economy, our children's education, our seniors' security and our nation's fiscal soundness require that we act without further delay."

Debt talks crisis: Boehner, Obama trading blame 07/23/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 23, 2011 12:20am]
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