The Corner

With Debt Talks Stalled, Congress Scrambles for ‘Plan B’

It now appears all but certain that the Senate will not adjourn as scheduled next week for the July 4th recess, as Republicans have threatened to do “everything in their power” to prevent this from happening. Still, no one could give a definitive answer Wednesday night as the Senate let out for the night. Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) said he expected to be here next week because Republicans simply weren’t going to permit a recess.

Most Democrats seemed to think they’d be back as well, and didn’t seem too happy about it. “Go ask Minority Leader DeMint!” Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) barked at reporters, when asked if he’d be working next week. “He’s got a stranglehold of his caucus over there.”  Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) was one of many GOP senators who signaled that they would object to any unanimous consent agreement to adjourn for the holiday.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D., N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, told reporters he expected the Senate would be in session next week, and if so, he would be introducing a budget resolution that every Democrat on the committee had signed off on. He said the overall package would contain “over $4 trillion” in deficit reduction, but provided few other details. Conrad said he did not plan to bring the resolution before the committee for a markup or hold any floor votes.

Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) riffed with reporters as to why Republicans decided to take a stand by objecting to the recess. “The alarm bells have gone off,” he said, indicating that most Republicans now realize that negotiations between party leaders and the White House are “not going any place that matters.” Indeed, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) referred to the talks as “a parody” earlier in the day.

“Obviously the best deal is having the president involved but it appears that that’s not going to happen at this moment,” Corker said. “We’re looking for Plan B.”

Corker said Republicans, who in exchange for raising the debt ceiling were demanding “dramatic changes in the character of spending,” have concluded that a deal with the White House is “less and less likely.” Even the roughly $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction ironed out during the negotiations led by Vice President Joe Biden was “nowhere near enough” to satisfy the GOP, let alone the bond markets. “I don’t think they’d look at that as serious,” he said. “People realize that on the course we’re on we’re heading for a train wreck.”

If you had asked him two months ago, Corker said, he would have told you there was a “great chance” that lawmakers would reach an agreement. He is dramatically less optimistic now, at least as far as negotiations with the president are concerned. As long as the White House has “taken everything off the table,” specifically entitlement programs, which are the biggest drivers of the federal debt and deficit, Corker said a deal was all but impossible.

“There’s nothing there that provides any saving,” he said. “Everything big has been taken off — Medicaid, Medicare — it’s kind of where all the money is, so how can you get to an agreement? We’re going to have to work outside that process because that process is not going anywhere.”

Corker insisted that “there are other ways of making deals” outside of these formal negotiations, and predicted “a lot of hustling around” as multiple, smaller groups of senators begin to come forward with their own ideas in an effort to forge a grand bargain. He pointed to the Coburn-Lieberman Medicare plan as an example. “Everyone is focused on how do we get a deal that’s acceptable,” he said. “That’s the conversation that’s going on on the floor.”

And it’s about time, he said. For Congress to have gone nearly 800 days without passing a budget to deal with our massive debt crisis is “unbelievably irresponsible,” and he suggested that people ought to be far more concerned than they are right now. “I tell people back home, no matter how irresponsible they think Congress is, believe me it is far worse than that,” he said. “I can’t believe the markets are this calm.”

 

Andrew Stiles — Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...

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