Debt Ceiling Fight Sparks Political Shame Game

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After a tongue-lashing from President Obama, the Senate is canceling its recess next week. Instead of a long holiday break, senators are now due back at the Capitol on July 5, and they have their work cut out for them. Lawmakers have yet to strike a deficit-reduction deal to raise the debt ceiling, and they have to act by Aug. 2 to avoid a possible default. The blame game over the impasse is now giving way to a political shame game.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

After a tongue-lashing from President Obama yesterday, the Senate is canceling its recess next week. Instead of a long holiday break, senators are now due back at the Capitol on the 5th of July, and they have their work cut out for them. Lawmakers have yet to strike a deficit-reduction deal to raise the debt ceiling, and they have to act by August 2nd to avoid a possible default.

As NPR's David Welna reports, the blame game over the impasse is now giving way to a political shame game.

DAVID WELNA: And that shame game got going yesterday at a White House news conference when President Obama scolded senators for planning to be out of town all next week.

President BARACK OBAMA: You need to be here. I've been here. I've been doing Afghanistan and bin Laden and the Greek crisis, and - you stay here. Let's get it done.

WELNA: Hours later, freshman Republican Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin called a news conference at the Capitol. He had some shaming of his own to do, aimed at the Senate's Democratic majority.

Senator RON JOHNSON (Republican, Wisconsin): I'm going to object to recessing next week. Our country is going bankrupt. We shouldn't be going home on a holiday.

WELNA: That seemed to hit a nerve. This morning, Majority Leader Harry Reid rose on the Senate floor and declared that with liberty comes responsibility.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): That's why the Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, day after the Fourth. We'll do that because we have work to do.

WELNA: Not to be outdone, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rose to summon President Obama to Capitol Hill.

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): President says he wants to get working. He wants us to get working. I can't think of a better way than to have him come right on over today -we're waiting - and hear directly from our conference about the legislative realities in Congress right now.

WELNA: Such as the reality that congressional Republicans refuse to consider any tax increase on anyone as part of a deal to reduce the deficit. At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney promptly declined McConnell's public invitation.

Mr. JAY CARNEY (White House Press Secretary): What the senator invited the president to do was to hear Senate Republicans restate their maximalist position. We know what that position is, and he also invited them to hear - invited the president to hear what would not pass. That's not a conversation worth having.

WELNA: That seemed to prompt further fulminating on the Senate floor.

Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): Absolutely disgraceful. He should be ashamed.

WELNA: The shaming this time was meant for President Obama, and it came from Texas Republican John Cornyn.

Sen. CORNYN: Why didn't he stay at the table? Instead of going to Philadelphia tonight and raising money, why didn't he call Senator McConnell, Speaker Boehner, Minority Leader Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid into his office and sit down and do his job, just do his job.

WELNA: Meanwhile, Majority Leader Reid called a news conference to announce that he was not only inviting the president but the vice president as well to meet with the Democratic Caucus next week.

Sen. REID: That's what we're going to do, focus on - all next week -we're going to focus on the economy.

WELNA: But not only the economy, Reid later went to the Senate floor to seek his colleagues' consent to bring up next Tuesday...

Sen. REID: ...a joint resolution authorizing the limited use of the United States Armed Forces in support of the NATO mission in Libya.

WELNA: Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican, who'd earlier warned he would not agree to a Senate recess next week, said he understood a resolution on Libya was a very important issue.

Sen. JOHNSON: The fact of the matter is it simply doesn't address the fact we're bankrupting this nation, so Mr. President, I do object.

WELNA: So it's likely that next week the Senate will see a continuation of the shame game with Democrats such as Oregon's Jeff Merkley rising to accuse Republicans of shielding tax loopholes for yachts, corporate jets and racehorses.

Senator JEFF MERKLEY (Democrat, Oregon): So when it comes to these programs, there must be no sacred cows, and there must be no sacred horses.

WELNA: Those racehorses' owners happened to get a tax break engineered by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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