The second-highest ranking Democrat in the Senate, and one of eight members of Congress working with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to craft a high-stakes deal to raise the national borrowing limit, painted a gloomy picture of the current state of negotiations.
In a brief interview in the Senate press gallery shortly after he returned from a tense and unproductive White House meeting with Republicans on Monday, a visibly frustrated Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) explained why a deal to raise the debt ceiling remains so far off.
“It was frank and candid — that’s what they say when people are on edge,” Durbin said. “So we have a long way to go.”Durbin said that the group hit a wall after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) listed a number of potential cuts that he and other members negotiated in earlier talks led by Biden. Having balked at the idea of a huge, $4 trillion deficit reduction package over Obama’s insistence on a significant tax revenue component, Republicans say the final debt limit discussions should center on a list of cuts that, they hope, have bipartisan support.
Just two problems: they don’t have bipartisan support — and even if they did, the group would still run headlong into a separate GOP demand. Cantor, and Speaker John Boehner say they won’t raise the debt limit by a single dollar more than the group agrees to cut over a decade. But Obama insists that the deal must extend it into 2013 — a hike that amounts to over $2 trillion in new borrowing authority. They’re still miles from that goal.
“It didn’t add up,” Durbin said. “It doesn’t add up to enough. When Cantor puts all of the things brought up in the Biden conversation on the table, it doesn’t add up to the dollar amount that the Republicans are insisting on. Cantor had his chance, put it out there. And it wasn’t as if they were agreed to. Many things there that were clearly not agreed to, but even allowing for that possibility, it didn’t add up.”
Obama reportedly rejected a plan to impose further means-testing of Medicare — a benefit cut Democrats abhor — arguing that he could not in good conscience shift hundreds of dollars in annual Medicare costs on to middle-class seniors if Republicans aren’t willing to ask wealthy Americans to contribute even pocket change to deficit reduction. But if big ticket items are off the table, then the group is much farther from $2.4 trillion than Republicans would like people to believe. And that means one party will likely have to move one of its lines in the sand.
“That’s why we’re coming back tomorrow,” Durbin said. “And as the President said every day until we get it done.”