Last year it was “I am not a witch”, this year the Tea Party catchphrase became “I will not vote to raise the debt ceiling”.
Despite this opposition, the White House expressed confidence a grand deal will be reached in days to raise the US debt ceiling — giving Republicans the largest share of the spoils. It’s been said before, but this time they’re adamant.
The exact details have not been decided, but Barack Obama has thrown his full support behind a bipartisan Gang of Six (actually seven comprising three Democrats, four Republicans, zero Tea Partiers) that plans $3.7 trillion in cuts from the defence budget and Medicare entitlements.
The contentious element of revenue increases, valued at less than a quarter of the proposed cuts, would be handed in the bipartisan congressional conference committee, which is the usual process for resolving minor differences between legislation passed by the House and Senate. In this case, it may be asked to insert billions of dollars of taxes into the House version of the deal. This arcane trickery, quite exceeding the committee’s normal duties, will allow the Republicans to keep their pledge not to vote to increase taxes.
White House spokesperson Jay Carney told today’s press briefing that Obama fully endorses “the process” even through the details were not finalised and has not mirrored the $4 trillion compromise he preferred. It’s not “Gang of Six or bust”, Carney said, but the Mitch McConnell plan-B is still unfavoured. Whether preferred or not, with only 13 days until default, this point it’s either/or … or bust.
The Gang of Six, an semi-official group of finance committee senators, was considered a lame duck in this crisis. However, in the past few days one of its AWOL Republican members, the arch conservative Senator Tom Coburn, returned to the table. So unexpected was his co-operation with anything that advantages Obama, it forced Washington to pay attention. They released a bare skeleton of their $3.7 trillion plan yesterday to much fanfare.
Yet, congressional Democrats were horrified at the lack of details this afternoon after Carney made the statement resting all hopes on the Gang of Six. Their leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were marched into the White House and asked to not stand in the way, without being told what had been bargained away. Senator Reid also panicked that there wasn’t enough time left to make the deal before August 2.
In what has been latest in a series of concessions, the White House gave ground once more late this afternoon with Carney admitting Obama may be open to signing a “one-to-three-day” reprieve past the deadline as long as the grand deal is effectively decided within days and not kicked down the road to September or October.
Part of the reason Obama made a veto threat over any short-term deal, was that he didn’t want the long-term debate to made in the middle of the next presidential election campaign. However, that’s already too late. The Republican presidential nomination campaign is no longer a mere entertaining sideshow, but actually affecting this crisis.
Only a few of the presidential candidates have waded into the debt ceiling debate. Michele Bachmann, the most prominent of them, held firm to the Tea Party stance to never raise debt ceiling. No compromise in exchange for enormous cuts. Never, ever. That line has been the opening statement in all her recent TV campaign ads. For many Republican primary voters, that promise is more effective than last year’s unbeatable “I am not a witch”.
As a current serving member of the House of Representatives and the effective spokesperson of the 60-member strong Tea Party caucus, there is a legitimate chance Bachmann and her colleagues could sink any deal Speaker Boehner does make.
Boehner met with that Tea Party caucus today, after his meeting at the White House. No word yet on whether he will proceed without Bachmann and co to save the US economy.