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Republican Leaders In Debt-Ceiling Corner Between Obama, Tea Party

President Obama with House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell,  Wednesday, July 13, 2011.
Charles Dharapak
President Obama with House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Wednesday, July 13, 2011.

As Thursday brought the prospect of another scheduled afternoon White House meeting between the antagonists in the debt-ceiling battle, it was only natural to wonder how that session would go considering what happened the day before.

On Wednesday, as been widely reported, that meeting got somewhat testy, with President Obama telling congressional Republicans, specifically House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, not to test his resolve.

Obama continued to say he wanted to get the largest deal possible, an agreement that not only contained significant deficit reduction and some tax revenue increases but that would push the next debt-ceiling fight beyond the 2012 general election.


Cantor apparently argued for a short-term extension that would allow the federal government to continue to get financing for a little while longer while his side tried to get Obama and other Democrats to agree to something closer to the $2.4 trillion in spending cuts Republicans want in return for increasing the debt ceiling by a like amount.

Obama has threatened to veto any brief extensions, saying the problem only gets harder, not easier to solve as the general election draws nearer.

The Washington Post reports the meeting ended with Obama issuing a warning to Cantor:

"The president told me, 'Eric, don't call my bluff. You know I'm going to take this to the American people,' " Cantor said. "He then walked out."


But as he left, Obama added: "I'll see you tomorrow."

The president also acknowledged according to reports that if the U.S. defaults on its debt and financial and economic disaster ensues, he may be a one-termer. From ABC News' Political Punch blog:

"This may bring my presidency down, but I will not yield on this," he said.

Then he stood up.

"Enough is enough," the president insisted. "We have to be willing to compromise. It shouldn't be about positioning and politics, and I'll see you all tomorrow."

Meanwhile, it's clear that the disagreements between partisans may not be as much of a eventual dealbreaker as the intraparty differences between Republicans.

The split between Obama and Republicans is nothing compared to the gap between GOP leaders and their Tea Party fueled rank and file. Top congressional leaders appear to have essentially painted themselves into a corner between Obama on one side and the just-say-no bloc of House Republicans on the other.

Still, congressional Republican leaders like Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate minority leader, and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio are signaling their firebrands that perhaps its time to pull the ripcords on their parachutes.

That the warnings seem to be going unheeded is leaving many people with a sinking feeling.

Instead of being hailed as a tactician for his proposed legislative maneuver to effectively give Obama the power to raise the debt ceiling by himself without the need for any Republicans to cast a politically unpopular vote for a hike, he's been viewed by many conservatives as a defeatist who sounded retreat prematurely.

To which McConnell has responded with a candid admission on the conservative radio Laura Ingraham Show that his goal is to keep Republicans from having to wear the political hairshirt if a default happens, the economy heads into a tailspin and Obama successfully blames Republicans for the carnage. McConnell told Ingraham.

We knew shutting down the government in 1995 was not going to work for us. It helped Bill Clinton get re-elected. I refuse to let Barack Obama get re-elected by marching Republicans into a position where we have co-ownership of a bad economy... What he will do if we go into default is he will say Republicans are making the economy worse and try to convince the public, maybe with some merit, you know, people start not getting their Social Security checks and military families start receiving letters that service people overseas don't get paid. It's an argument he could have a good chance of winning.

Say this for McConnell, he appears to be an open book when it comes to gaming out his political strategy on this one. Nevertheless, it's a strategy many of his fellow conservatives disdain.

And here's an excerpt from a Morning Edition report by NPR's David Welna on what's being called the Hell No Caucus in the House Republican majority:

DAVID: House Speaker John Boehner sounded a tad exasperated earlier this week on Fox News when asked whether he had enough votes in his big Republican majority to raise the debt ceiling:

BOEHNER: We have a number of our members who just don't believe that they should ever vote to increase the debt ceiling.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who, like his friend Sen. John McCain, has been known to take on his own party at times, suggested that Republicans needed to look in the mirror for the source of their current intraparty difficulties.

An excerpt from a post by Scott Wong on's On Congress blog:

"Our problem is we made a big deal about this for three months. How many Republicans have been on TV saying, 'I'm not going to raise the debt limit.' You know, Mitch [McConnell] says, 'I'm not going to raise the debt limit unless we talk about Medicare.' And I've said I'm not going to raise the debt limit until we do something about spending and entitlements.' So we've got nobody to blame but ourselves," Graham told reporters after a GOP caucus lunch.

"We shouldn't have said that if we didn't mean it."

The pressure only continued to mount on the Washington debt-ceiling negotiators. China weighed in with a foreign ministry official politely urging the U.S. to get its act together. China, of course, owns about $1 trillion in U.S. Treasury securities.

As Reuters reported:

(Reuters) - China's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that it hoped the U.S. government would take a responsible attitude to protect investor interests, in Beijing's latest expression of concern about the possibility of Washington briefly defaulting on its debt...

... "We hope that the U.S. government adopts responsible policies and measures to guarantee the interests of investors," ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular news briefing in Beijing, when asked about the Moody's report.

He did not elaborate.

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