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The talks at the White House on raising the debt ceiling ended abruptly last night with President Obama walking out of a meeting with congressional leaders. Despite the looming deadline, prospects for a deal do not appear to be improving at the moment. Republican congressional leaders appear to be increasingly at odds with some members of their own party. NPR's David Welna reports on what is coming to be known as the Hell, No caucus.
DAVID WELNA: House Speaker John Boehner sounded a tad exasperated earlier this week on Fox News when asked whether he had enough votes in his big Republican majority to raise the debt ceiling.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; Speaker of the House): We have a number of our members who just don't believe that they should ever vote to increase the debt ceiling.
WELNA: In fact, as many as half the House Republicans now appear inclined to vote against increasing the nation's legal borrowing limit, something Congress has already done 89 times since 1939.
President Obama warned on CBS this week that not raising the debt ceiling by August 2nd could mean some people will not get their monthly Social Security checks.
President BARACK OBAMA: I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd if we haven't resolved this issue, because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it.
Representative JOE WALSH (Republican, Illinois): President Obama, quit lying.
WELNA: In a�Web video posted yesterday, freshman House Republican Joe Walsh of Illinois accused the president of misleading people about the August 2nd debt ceiling deadline.
Rep. WALSH: You know darn well that if August 2nd comes and goes, there's plenty of money to pay off our debt and cover all of our Social Security obligations.
WELNA: Walsh, who got elected with strong Tea Party backing, is a leading member of what's been dubbed the Hell, No caucus - the Republican lawmakers who refuse to raise the debt ceiling. House Tea Party Caucus Chairwoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who's running for president, accused the president and his Treasury secretary yesterday of selling the nation a bill of goods.
Representative MICHELE BACHMANN (Republican, Minnesota): And it's this - that if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion, that somehow the United States will go into default and we will lose the full faith and credit of the United States. That is simply not true.
WELNA: That puts Bachmann and many other House Republicans at odds with Speaker Boehner, who had this warning in the Fox News interview.
Rep. BOEHNER: Missing August 2nd could spook the market, and you could have a real catastrophe. Nobody wants that to happen.
WELNA: Fellow House Republican Louie Gohmert of Texas thinks Boehner's been bamboozled.
Representative LOUIE GOHMERT (Republican, Texas): The problem with the speaker and him saying that is he believes the president, and I will encourage the speaker not to believe the president anymore.
WELNA: Gohmert and other House Republicans are pushing legislation that puts active-duty service members and debt holders at the head of the line for government payments if the debt ceiling is not raised.
Their willingness to allow at least a partial default on the debt alarms Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. He told radio host Laura Ingraham yesterday that Republicans would be saddled with the blame for a default. And that, he said, would put them in a very bad position for next year's election.
Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): Just like we knew shutting down the government in 1995 was not going to work for us. It helped Bill Clinton get re-elected. I refuse to help Barack Obama get re-elected by marching Republicans into a position where we have co-ownership of a bad economy.
WELNA: McConnell has proposed a scheme in which Congress would authorize President Obama to raise the debt ceiling without any of the massive deficit reduction that Republicans have been demanding. It's a fallback plan to be used only if a deal cannot be reached among negotiators. But Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker calls it an embarrassment.
Senator BOB CORKER (Republican, Tennessee): You know, this place is way too caught up in trying to protect each side for the 2012 elections.
WELNA: Still, Lamar Alexander, who's Tennessee's other GOP senator, predicts McConnell's contingency plan will only keep looking better.
Senator LAMAR ALEXANDER (Republican, Tennessee): I think after about one week, maybe two weeks, there are going to be a lot of Republicans and a lot of Democrats thanking Senator McConnell for leaving an option on the table so that we don't have a default.
WELNA: But there likely won't be many thanks from the Hell, No caucus.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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