Republicans are demanding to know why President Obama isn’t at the table pin the deficit talks. Today, Jon Kyl, the No. 2 Senate Republican, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor abruptly withdrew from the talks saying they have gone as far as they can and now presidential leadership is needed – particularly on the sticky issue of taxes. From Cantor’s statement:
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.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed Cantor in a speech on the Senate floor:
For weeks, lawmakers have worked around the clock to hammer out a plan that would help us avert a crisis we all know is coming — all the while knowing that at some point the President would have to sign it. So it’s worth asking: Where in the world has President Obama been for the past month? … He’s the President. He needs to lead. He needs to show that he recognizes the problem. And do something about it.
And yet, why would Obama come to the table when McConnell himself and House Speaker John Boehner aren’t yet at the table? Why isn’t Cantor calling on his boss, Boehner, to engage? Or Kyl for McConnell to? Just last month, when I asked McConnell why the primary leaders weren’t at the table, he told me they were – though their deputies — and that he was happy with the process. From the interview:
JNS: When do the leaders get involved? Right now you have all the No. 2s at the table.
MM: Well, we are involved.
JNS: How so?
MM: No. 1 I have total trust and confidence in [Senator] Jon Kyl and it won’t surprise you that we talk about what’s going on at the meetings.
JNS: This is a moment of urgency – and yet the top leaders aren’t even there yet. Is this really the best the leaders can do? The best the country can do?
MM: On the crisis, I think Erskine Bowles the co chair of the fiscal commission, puts it best when he said that this is the most predictable crisis in American history. We didn’t know the Japanese were going to hit Pearl Harbor Many of us were surprised about the economic melt down in 08. This one, you know, it’s here. Standard and Poors is telling us: it’s here. And the key people are at the table right now as we speak. The consultations and discussions with critical players are happening now. The President is at the table through the Vice President. I’m at the table through Jon Kyl. Boehner’s at the table through Eric Cantor and Harry [Reid] and Nancy [Pelosi] have picked a couple of people each as well, so those are the talks. They are the ones related to how do you raise the debt ceiling and the conditions under which some Republicans, maybe even a lot depending on what we’re able to achieve, are willing to raise the debt ceiling. So what you’re looking for is how it’s happening and that’s how it’s happening.
So, I guess it’s okay to be there through your deputy… until it’s not. So, either the talks go on without Kyl and Cantor — and therefore Boehner and McConell — rendering them useless. Or, it’s time for all of the leaders to engage.
A senior Democratic aide e-mails me: Cantor and Kyl just threw Boehner and McConnell under the bus. This move is an admission that there will be a need for revenues and Cantor and Kyl don’t want to be the ones to make that deal. Default is way too serious for Republicans to throw in the towel.