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Washington Week

June 26, 2011 - 6:00pm

The debt limit negotiations led by Vice President Joe Biden imploded Thursday when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., announced that he was not attending any more meetings.

The House leader acknowledged that good work had been done when it came to coming up with spending cuts. The reports around Capitol Hill are that the debt-limit negotiators have all but agreed to cut around $2 trillion in spending. But then tax increases began to creep into the discussion, until finally an idea was introduced by the Democrats around the negotiating table that up to $400 billion could be raised if taxes were increased for businesses and the so-called wealthy in America.

It was at this point that Cantor said he could no longer be a part of these negotiations. Cantor said, "There is not support in the House for a tax increase, and I don't believe now is the time to raise taxes in light of our current economic situation. Regardless of the progress that has been made, the tax issue must be resolved before discussions can continue. Given this impasse, I will not be participating in today's meeting and I believe it is time for the president to speak clearly and resolve the tax issue. Once resolved, we have a blueprint to move forward to trillions of spending cuts and binding mechanisms to change the way things are done around here."

Within a few hours, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., also announced that because of the introduction of tax increases into the debt-limit negotiations, he too would not be attending any more meetings. Sen. Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor and made the following statement: Weve known from the beginning that tax hikes would be a poison pill to any debt-reduction proposal. Those who are proposing them now either know this or need to realize it quickly.

McConnell then said: President Obama needs to decide between his goal of higher taxes, or a bipartisan plan to address our deficit. He cant have both.

By weeks end, the president had asked to meet with McConnell on Monday, June 27, and then with Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader. These separate meetings are aimed at seeing if the overall debt negotiating team has any chance of being revitalized. Assuming these Monday meetings result in the debt negotiators coming back to the table, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has asked that she now have a seat at the table when or if the meetings resume.

In the meantime, the House of Representatives went out on Friday to reconvene Wednesday, July 6. Before members adjourned for the Fourth of July, they were able to pass the Patent Reform Bill. That bill passed by a vote of 304-117. The House also passed a three-week extension of the Federal Aviation Administration. This agency is now operating under its 20th extension. This means that Congress has failed to give this very important agency a full year of funding 20 different times.

Finally, the House defeated a resolution to authorize limited support for our military mission in Libya. That resolution failed by a vote of 123-295. They also failed to limit the amount of money spent on our mission in Libya. That resolution failed by a vote of 180-238. After all was said and done, the House did not conduct a vote that would have, in effect, authorized the use of funds or troops in Libya. Clear as mud, huh?

The House leadership couldnt craft a resolution that would authorize the military action in Libya, even on a temporary basis. Given that failure, instead of sending a bad message to our troops, they decided to give our troops a victory in Congress by defeating efforts to cut the money or limit the scope of the mission.

Meanwhile, over on the Senate side of the Capitol, a bill was being debated designed to streamline the nomination process in the U.S. Senate. The advise and consent process has become too time-consuming and the number of confirmable positions needs to be reduced. During the debate on the bill, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., offered an amendment that would end the practice of the president appointing czars. The amendment failed by a vote of 47-51. Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., supported the amendment. However, even if the two missing GOP senators were present and voting, the amendment still would have failed to pass by garnering only49 votes in favor of ending the practice of hiring czars.

The Senate will resume this nomination reform bill this week. They will also pass the three-week extension of the FAA bill and also consider a resolution being negotiated between Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., regarding limited authorization for our troops in Libya. By weeks end, the Senate will recess for the Fourth of July holiday, to reconvene July 11th.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking loudly on the time bomb, better known as the debt-limit increase. Congress must extend our borrowing authority in the form of increasing our debt limit on or before Aug. 2. Otherwise, the U.S. government will not be able to pay all of its debts. The president will be put in a position whereby he must decide which bill gets paid using the money that comes into the treasury through other means such as excise taxes and fees.

Stay tuned to see how the Monday meetings go with the two Senate leaders and our president. Also, see if former Speaker Pelosi is able to muscle her way to the debt negotiating table when or if the negotiations resume.

Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, elected United States Senate secretary for the majority and minority. Currently she is a senior legislative adviser for Covington & Burling, LLC and is the founder of .

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