Debt-Ceiling Negotiations Are Taxing For Both Sides

In three weeks, the country risks defaulting on its bills. And there's no sign yet of a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling. Republican leaders have dug in their heels against any deficit reduction that entails increased tax revenues.

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There's no sign yet of a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling. Republicans have demanded big reductions in future federal deficits. President Obama insisted he's ready, but over the weekend Republicans backed away, saying they don't agree on how to do the job.

Let's begin our coverage with NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA: President Obama held a news conference yesterday at the White House. It was to announce he intends to meet with eight congressional leaders everyday of this work week and possibly this weekend as well until they agree on a budget deal that would lead to raising the debt ceiling.

President BARACK OBAMA: I continue to push congressional leaders for the largest possible deal. And there's going to be resistance. There is frankly resistance on my side to do anything on entitlements. There is a strong resistance on the Republican side to do anything on revenues.

WELNA: The president then declared he did not want and indeed would not accept any deficit reduction deal that asked nothing of high income earners such as himself.

President OBAMA: It's not because I want to raise revenues for the sake of raising revenues or I've got some grand ambition to create a bigger government. It's because if we're going to actually solve the problem there are a finite number of ways to do it. And if you don't have revenues it means you are putting more of a burden on the people who can least afford it.

WELNA: The president's insistence on tax revenues being part of a deal has cost him a key partner in his pursuit of a grand bargain that would cut deficits by $4 trillion over the next decade.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): The president and I do not agree on his view that government needs more revenues through higher taxes on job creators.

WELNA: That's speaker of the House John Boehner. Yesterday, he was explaining to reporters why, over the weekend, he backed out of seeking a bigger deficit reduction deal with President Obama. Still, Boehner did not sound as if he'd completely given upon getting that bigger deal.

Rep. BOEHNER: I understand that this is going to take sacrifice and it's going to take political capital on both sides. And I'm certainly willing to take my fair share of it. But if we're going to take political capital, then let's step up and do the big thing and the right thing for the country.

WELNA: Boehner's aim for a bigger budget deal had been at odds with the number two House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The speaker's news conference was hastily organized after Cantor was asked by reporters whether he and the speaker were on the same page.

Representative ERIC CANTOR (Republican, Virginia): I think we are on the same page, you know. I mean, I know you all love to write the soap opera here, you know. And it's just that. It's something that I think belittles the real question here. And that is the difference between the sides. And that is between the fact that Barack Obama wants to raise taxes and Republicans don't.

WELNA: Cantor is said to have taken the GOP lead in the private negotiations now going on daily at the White House. And he's drawing a hard line on taxes.

Rep. CANTOR: That is just an irreconcilable difference. And if the president wants the debt ceiling raised we're not going to go along and raise that if they want to raise taxes. And that just is what it is.

WELNA: At the White House, President Obama was asked what the path to a budget deal was if Republicans would not budge on taxes.

President OBAMA: I do not see a path to a deal if they don't budge, period.

WELNA: Still, the president insisted the deficit ceiling would be raised by the August 2 deadline.

President OBAMA: We might as well do it now. Pull off the Band-aid, eat our peas.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WELNA: No progress was reported after congressional leaders met yesterday at the White House. They're meeting there again this afternoon.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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