July 14th, 2011
07:00 PM ET

Latest talks end with no deal and no meeting on Friday

Washington (CNN) - A fifth meeting in five days involving President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders failed to achieve a breakthrough on Thursday and no talks were planned for Friday, which the White House had called a deadline for deciding the way forward.

According to a source familiar with the debt conversations, who spoke on condition of not being identified, there will be no meeting Friday. There was no word on when the direct negotiations would resume.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Thursday's 80-minute session a good meeting and said, "We'll continue to discuss a way forward over the next couple of days and see what happens."

Earlier, the White House said the negotiators will have to shift their focus to increasing the federal debt ceiling if they fail to make significant progress by Friday toward a comprehensive deficit reduction deal that would cut spending and raise taxes.

Administration officials have warned that a failure to raise the current $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by August 2 could trigger a partial default. If Washington lacks the money to pay its bills, interest rates could skyrocket and the value of the dollar could decline, among other things.

Republicans have tied their support for a debt ceiling increase to steps to reduce mounting federal deficits such as deep spending cuts and reforms to entitlement programs. Democrats agree on the need for a deficit reduction plan, but the two sides remain divided over the size and scope of a deal as time runs out for getting the debt ceiling raised to ensure the government can pay all its bills.

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July 13th, 2011
08:27 PM ET

Republican leader says latest deficit talks ended abruptly

Washington (CNN) - A fourth straight day of talks intended to head off a possible government default ended on a tense note Wednesday, with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor saying President Barack Obama cut him off by saying "I'll see you tomorrow" before walking out.

The exchange concluded almost two hours of talks that failed to achieve a breakthrough. Another session - the fifth in five days - was set for Thursday, participants said.

Administration officials have warned that a failure to raise the current $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by August 2 could trigger a partial default. If Washington lacks the money to pay its bills, interest rates could skyrocket and the value of the dollar could decline, among other things.

The seriousness of the situation was reinforced when a major rating agency said Wednesday it would put the sterling bond rating of the United States on review for possible downgrade.

Moody's Investors Services said it had initiated the review because of "the rising possibility" that Congress will fail to raise the debt ceiling in time - something that could lead to a U.S. default on its debt.

Cantor, R-Virginia, told reporters after Wednesdays meeting that he proposed a short-term agreement to raise the federal debt ceiling, a position Obama has previously rejected. The president wants one deal that will raise the amount of money the government can borrow to sufficient levels to last through 2012 - after his campaign for re-election.

"That's when he got very agitated and said I've sat here long enough - that no other president - Ronald Reagan - would sit here like this - and that he's reached the point that something's gotta give," Cantor said, adding that Obama called for Republicans to compromise on either their insistence that a debt-ceiling hike must be matched dollar-for-dollar by spending cuts or on their opposition to any kind of tax increase.

"And he said to me, 'Eric, don't call my bluff.' He said 'I'm going to the American people with this,' " Cantor quoted Obama as saying.

"I was somewhat taken aback," Cantor said. When he continued to press the issue, Cantor said, Obama "shoved back from the table, said 'I'll see you tomorrow' and walked out."

A Democratic source familiar with the talks said on condition of not being identified that Obama cut off Cantor at the end when the Virginia Republican questioned him for the third time on his opposition to a short-term extension of the federal debt ceiling.

Another Democratic source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, described the tone of the meeting as tense but constructive and said that at one point, Cantor was challenged on what the source called "talking out of both sides of his mouth."

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July 12th, 2011
07:36 PM ET

Taxes, Social Security fears cited in debt ceiling talks

Washington (CNN) - Partisan warfare over the looming debt ceiling crisis escalated Tuesday as GOP leaders once again refused to consider any tax hikes and President Barack Obama warned that, absent a deal, he can't guarantee older Americans will continue receiving Social Security checks next month.

"There may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it," Obama said, according to excerpts of a CBS News interview scheduled to air Tuesday night.

"We can't guarantee - if there were a default - any specific bill would be paid," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Top lawmakers from both sides of the aisle met with Obama for almost two hours at the White House later Tuesday, and another session was scheduled for Wednesday, according to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia.

Cantor also said Obama presented more details of his proposed cuts to entitlement programs such as Medicare, and that Republicans support what they heard. However, Cantor reiterated GOP opposition to higher taxes, which is the main sticking point to a deal.

Administration officials have warned that a failure to raise the current $14.3 trillion ceiling by August 2 could trigger a partial default. If Washington lacks the money to meet its bills, interest rates could skyrocket and the value of the dollar could decline, among other things.

Negotiators have been debating trillions of dollars in possible savings over the next decade, a response to GOP demands for significant spending cuts in exchange for any debt ceiling increase. Democrats are furious, however, that Republicans refuse to consider any tax hikes as part of a deal.

In the CBS interview, Obama noted that former President Ronald Reagan compromised on increasing tax revenue, and wondered why Republicans today remain so adamantly opposed.

"The question is, if Ronald Reagan could compromise, why wouldn't folks who idolize Ronald Reagan be willing to engage in those same kinds of compromises," Obama said.

In addition to ruling out tax increases, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has also said overall spending cuts must exceed the size of any debt ceiling increase, and that new restraints must be imposed on future spending.

"One hundred percent of the problem is on the spending side," Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a member of the GOP leadership, said Tuesday morning.

Senate Minority Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said he has lost any hopes of a "grand bargain" with the White House.

"As long as this president is in the Oval Office a real solution (to the country's fiscal problems) is unattainable," McConnell said. Obama "will do almost anything to protect the size and the scope of Washington, D.C.'s burgeoning bureaucracy."

For their part, Democrats also dug in their heels.

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June 29th, 2011
07:00 PM ET

Obama pushes GOP on taxes in debt ceiling talks

Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama called on lawmakers Wednesday to overcome the "selfish" norms of politics and "do their job" in order to strike a deal on raising the federal government's current $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by the start of August.

People shouldn't get "spooked," but "the yellow light (is) flashing," he warned. "This is urgent."

Top economic analysts have warned of potentially catastrophic repercussions if the ceiling is not raised by August 2, including skyrocketing interest rates and a plummeting U.S. dollar.

The president blasted congressional Republicans for refusing to consider raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans as part of any deal. Congress needs to be willing to "take on their sacred cows and do tough things" while moving away from "maximalist positions," he said.

He said Congress should cancel upcoming summer vacations if a deal isn't struck by the end of the week.

"I want everybody to understand that this is a jobs issue. This is not an abstraction," he said. "If the United States government, for the first time, cannot pay its bills - if it defaults - then the consequences for the U.S. economy will be significant and unpredictable. And that is not a good thing."

Obama made his remarks during a wide-ranging news conference covering the state of the economy, the wars in Afghanistan and Libya, and hot-button social issues such as same-sex marriage. It came at a time of rising questions over Obama's ability to maintain control of the political narrative and boost public confidence in his stewardship in the run-up to next year's presidential election.

GOP leaders have shown no signs of yielding in their opposition to higher taxes as part of any grand bargain with the White House. Recent bipartisan talks led by Vice President Joe Biden collapsed over the tax disagreement.

"The president is sorely mistaken if he believes a bill to raise the debt ceiling and raise taxes would pass the (Republican-controlled) House," Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said after Obama's news conference.

"A debt-limit increase can only pass the House if it includes spending cuts larger than the debt limit increase; includes reforms to hold down spending in the future; and is free from tax hikes," Boehner added. "The longer the president denies these realities, the more difficult he makes this process."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, insisted earlier in the day that Republicans will "refuse to let the taxpayers take the hit when it comes to reducing the debt."

The debate is "about holding Washington accountable for a change," McConnell said. "It's about refusing to subsidize the Democrats' irresponsible spending habits another day."

For his part, the president ripped Republicans for protecting "millionaires and billionaires," oil companies, hedge fund managers, and owners of corporate jets.

The wealthy, he said, can afford to pay higher taxes.

"You can still ride on your corporate jet. You're just going to pay a little more," Obama said.

May 19th, 2011
06:45 PM ET

Obama announces 'new chapter' in U.S. Mideast diplomacy

Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama on Thursday placed the United States squarely on the side of democratic reform in the Middle East and North Africa, declaring in a major policy speech that the wave of change sweeping the region "cannot be denied."

Addressing a global audience, Obama condemned the use of force against Arab Spring protesters by longtime allies and adversaries alike. He also said the eruption of demands for greater opportunity in Arab nations could be used to kick-start stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

At the same time, Obama applied his own pressure by declaring as policy the long-held idea that a future Palestinian state should be based on borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war.

In the past, the United States has unofficially supported a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict based on the borders in place prior to the war 44 years ago in which Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula. Obama became the first president to formally endorse the policy, but he acknowledged the need for modifications through the negotiating process due to conditions on the ground.

Obama also dismissed the notion of al Qaeda-style extremism appealing to future generations of Muslims, asserting that the organization was "losing its struggle for relevance" long before the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2.

The president's speech - the subject of intense speculation in recent days - was a long-promised overview of America's changing Middle East policy in the wake of the Arab Spring that started unfolding in Tunisia last December.

In recent months, Washington has often appeared to struggle to keep up with the pace of events not only in Tunisia, but also in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and elsewhere.

Administration officials have also wrestled with an Arab suspicion of U.S. motives fueled by decades of American support for the region's autocratic regimes.

May 5th, 2011
08:45 AM ET

Harsh interrogation debate returns with bin Laden takedown

Washington (CNN) - Within hours of President Barack Obama's announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed, politics entered the fray.

A small but vocal group of Republicans including former Bush administration officials began claiming that information obtained from waterboarding and other now-prohibited enhanced interrogation techniques led to the successful assault on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.

Interviews and commentaries by conservatives, including former Vice President Dick Cheney repeated the contention, citing media reports rather than direct information.

A closer look shows no obvious evidence of a direct connection, at least to waterboarding, the simulated drowning technique considered to be torture under international law.

While administration officials, former interrogators and others concede that thousands of pieces of information collected over the past nine years eventually brought U.S. Navy SEALs to bin Laden, no one has cited specific information that came from the harsh interrogations labeled torture.

That doesn't stop defenders of enhanced interrogations from trying.

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