Congressional Week Ahead: Obama Enters Budget Talks

John Boehner

WASHINGTON – Budget talks aimed at striking an agreement to raise the federal debt ceiling move to the presidential level this week as President Obama is scheduled to hold separate meetings Monday with Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, and Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader.

The meetings were set up after talks being led by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. collapsed last week when Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 Republican in the House, quit the negotiations, citing Democratic insistence on tax increases.

Heading into this week’s meeting, Mr. McConnell sent a clear message on Sunday that he was no more interested in tax increases than was Mr. Cantor.

“Throwing more tax revenue into the mix is simply not going to produce a desirable result, and it won’t pass,” Mr. McConnell said on ABC’s “This Week.” “I mean, putting aside the fact that Republicans don’t like to raise taxes, Democrats don’t like to either.”

Neither Mr. Reid nor Mr. McConnell were directly involved in the Biden talks though both have been kept informed by other senior lawmakers taking part in the sessions, and Mr. Reid has also held discussions directly with the president. The president also met last week at the White House with Representative John A. Boehner, the House speaker.

Mr. McConnell repeatedly pointed out during his television appearance that both sides should drop the talking points they have traded throughout the debt limit showdown and try to conclude an agreement.

“I think both the Democrats and the Republicans would like to come together and finish this negotiation and finish it sometime soon,” Mr. McConnell said. “It need not necessarily go to the 11th hour.”

Trying to ease the way for Republicans to vote for a budget deal, Mr. McConnell on Sunday also said that he expects the Senate, like the House, will vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution – a prerequisite to a debt limit vote for some Republicans.

The Treasury Department has warned that that the federal government will bump up against its $14.3 trillion debt limit on Aug. 2, threatening to put the government in default for the first time.

Joining the debate, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, said in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN that if House Democratic votes are going to be needed to pass any debt limit deal, then House Democrats must be consulted.

“I have no objection, as a former speaker myself, to the president and the speaker trying to reach some level of agreement, some framework for how we go forward,” she said. “That arrangement works if the speaker has 218 votes. If they expect Democrats to vote for the agreement, then Democrats will have to be part of the agreement.”

Democrats have said they will not support a budget deal that relies solely on cuts to achieve $2 trillion or more in savings and that Republicans have to make some concessions such as agreeing to close corporate tax loopholes or cut Pentagon spending – a move Mr. Cantor and others have resisted.

While the Senate is in session this week, the House is out. With the leadership working on the budget talks, the Senate will take up some Justice Department nominations while continuing debate on a measure that would reduce the number of administration appointees who need Senate approval.

On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to consider a resolution that would authorize limited United States military involvement in Libya.

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