Debt Talks Stall as Boehner Struggles to Control GOP

Speaker of the House caved to his more conservative second-in-command

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In a press conference on ongoing talks to raise the debt ceiling Monday, President Obama said Washington lawmakers would have to "eat our peas" and get the the important stuff done. But those veggies that might be good for the country look like they're going to be bad for one guy: House Speaker John Boehner. Boehner told Obama that he didn't spend two decades clawing to the top of the Republican leadership for the title alone--he wanted to do "something big," The New York Times' Carl Hulse reports. But in backing away from Obama's big $4 trillion deficit-cutting plan Saturday night, Boehner appears to be signalling that the title is on his mind at the moment, too. The backtracking highlights rank-and-file Republicans' aversion to any tax increases, and, more importantly, "fissures within his own leadership team," Hulse writes. Boehner appeared to cave to the preferences of his more conservative No. 2, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who "did all the talking" during Sunday night negotiations while Boehner "just sat there," NBC News' First Read reports.

Obama said that debt negotiations would continue every day into the weekend if necessary, and was confident that participants would "come up with a plan that solves our short term debt and deficit problems, avoids default stabilizes the economy, and proves to the American people that we can actually get things done." But Congress has just two weeks until they reach the deadline to raise the debt ceiling--if they blow it, the U.S. will default on its financial obligations for the first time ever. For now, the sides are playing a game of chicken, Obama using the fast-approaching deadline to pressure Republicans to reach a bigger deal. Boehner is critical to forging a compromise, but it looks like he's at the beck and call of  the party's more conservative elements.

At the end of the Sunday's talks, in which Boehner "appeared subdued," Boehner ultimately "bowed to the will of his conservative caucus and ruled out any [bargain] that grand," as National Journal reports. In scaling down his ambitions to a smaller deal to cut about $2 trillion from the deficit, Politico writes, "Boehner's decision not to 'go big' on a debt-limit deal is the starkest demonstration yet of the limits of the Ohio Republican's power." White House Chief of Staff William Daley calls Bhoener's abandonment of the plan "unfortunate," but claims Obama will continue to push his agenda, continuing to cite the importance of meeting the deadline.

But in Monday's press conference, Obama defended his negotiating partner, saying, "I think Speaker Boehner has been very sincere about trying to do something big. The politics in his caucus is very different." Obama criticized a "process in which folks are rewarded for saying very irresponsible things" and said a deal is "is going to take some work on his side, but it's also going to take some work on our side to get this done."

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