Politics Very Much In Play In Debt-Reduction Talks

Congressional leaders will be at the White House Monday to continue talks on raising the debt ceiling. Putting the politics aside, what are the prospects for success here?

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Well, with Republicans and Democrats clearly still far away from reaching any sort of agreement, we turn now to NPR's Cokie Roberts for some analysis

Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Morning, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So walk us through the politics here. How do Democrats, or can Democrats take advantage of this apparent breakdown in a grand scheme to bring down the deficit?

ROBERTS: Well, clearly President Obama hopes that he can. He wants to come across here as the grown-up, and he will have this press conference this morning to be in charge and try to stop the children from fighting. The administration keeps talking about a balanced approach, and says that they will bring the congressional leaders together every day at the White House until a deal is made.

This is an attempt to appeal to independent voters that President Obama needs to win, and he needs to show them that he is managing the economy, that he's in charge of fixing things.

And that's why the big budget deal that was in fact first proposed by Speaker Boehner before he abandoned it this weekend, that's why that was appealing to President Obama. And he's now hoping that he does seem to be the person in charge and that voters give him credit for that.

KELLY: Now, you mentioned House Speaker John Boehner. What about the Republican side of this equation? They also have a lot at risk here if the government fails to act.

ROBERTS: They do. Yes, that's right. If they get blamed for any economic fallout from default or near default, obviously they have a lot to fear. They're playing a risky game here, but they believe the president gets the blame for Washington not functioning and they think a bad economy, especially after last week's dismal job numbers, that a bad economy is working for them. And you know, polls do show that the voters disapprove of the president's handling of the economy.

But if the Republicans are seen as making it worse, then they've got a problem, which is why Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the Senate, says no one wants to go to default. And he hinted that they have some kind of contingency plan.

KELLY: Well, so give us a reality check here, Cokie. I mean putting politics aside, if that's remotely possible at this point, what do you see as the prospects for success?

ROBERTS: I think everyone believes that something has to get done to avert disaster, and there's a true feeling at the top among leaders that a default is disaster. Now, that's not how many of the rank-and-file Republicans feel. They don't believe the administration on the question of the country going to default. And the Republican presidential candidates have been pushing hard against any kind of deal. But I think the economic situation is just too scary for Republican Congressional leaders not to come to some sort of agreement in the end, and I think that in the end they will get there.

KELLY: And what is the timeframe here?

ROBERTS: Well, August 2nd. August 2nd is the date that the administration says the country actually goes will no longer be able to pay its bills.

KELLY: Before we let you go, Cokie, we should say that you are heading out to California later today, where you will be delivering one of the official eulogies for former First Lady Betty Ford. Tell us how you'll be remembering her.

ROBERTS: Well, you know, since she died on Friday night, much has been said about her impact really on thousands of lives, both on the issue of breast cancer and substance abuse by her talking about her own problems with those diseases and what she was then able to do for so many people through the Betty Ford Center.

But what she wants me to talk about, what she asked me to talk about after she was gone, was how in the olden days when her husband was minority leader of Congress and my father was majority leader of Congress, that Democrats and Republicans were friends, and that they worked together to get things done. And I must say, she asked me she gave me this somewhat daunting assignment five years ago, but it seems incredibly appropriate today and particularly this week as we see what's going on in Washington right now being very different from what was true then.

KELLY: Cokie, thanks so much.

ROBERTS: Uh-huh.

KELLY: That's NPR's Cokie Roberts joining us, as she does most Monday mornings.

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KELLY: And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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