By Ian Swanson - 06/30/11 10:00 PM EDT
Senate Republicans revolted against the White House Thursday as the fight over raising the debt ceiling turned sharply more bitter and bled into other issues.
Just one week after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) left talks led by Vice President Biden, negotiations to reduce deficits appear to be in ruins.
GOP senators on Thursday sniped from the floor at President Obama’s lack of leadership and sought to stop any progress in the chamber.
In response, Republicans blocked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) request to bring legislation authorizing U.S. military action against Libya to the floor, and walked out of a planned markup of legislation implementing a free-trade agreement with South Korea.
They also mocked and scolded the president for his leadership record and his call for them to get to work.
Sen. Jon Cornyn (R-Texas) lambasted Obama for attending Philadelphia fundraisers a day after telling Congress to get to work on a debt deal. Cornyn, the chairman of the Senate Republican campaign committee, said Obama should be embarrassed by his lack of leadership.
“Instead of going to Philadelphia tonight and raising money ... why doesn't he call ...[congressional leadership] into his office and just do his job? Just do his job?,” Cornyn asked on the Senate floor.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) joked that Obama should pop a Valium to calm down before talking with Congress about a deficit deal, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) invited Obama to meet the Senate GOP and hear for himself that a deficit-reduction package with tax increases had no chance of winning approval from 60 senators.
“I’d like to invite the president to come to the Capitol today to meet with Senate Republicans — any time this afternoon, if he’s available, to come on up to the Capitol,” McConnell said. “That way he can hear directly from Senate Republicans … why what he’s proposing will not pass.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney quickly rejected McConnell’s invitation, suggesting the president had better things to do than listen to the “maximalist position” from the Senate GOP.
“We know that position. That's not a conversation worth having,” Carney said at his daily briefing.
Behind the scenes, White House officials pointedly noted that several Republicans were scheduled to hold fundraisers on Thursday as well.
Cornyn, despite his criticism of Obama’s fundraiser, was himself scheduled to be a guest at a fundraiser for Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) on Thursday.
Tensions are intensifying with both sides running out of time to reach a deal to raise the debt ceiling. The Treasury Department has said it will no longer be able to pay the nation’s creditors after Aug. 2 without a higher borrowing limit.
Senate Democrats canceled their July 4 recess week to provide more negotiating time, as lawmakers and Obama try to work out a deal with less than a month to go. Economists have warned that a failure to raise the debt ceiling could set off another recession by raising interest rates and lowering the dollar’s value.
Trade should be an issue that unifies the White House and GOP, yet Senate Republicans walked out of a preliminary markup on the South Korea trade deal.
They voiced opposition over Obama’s inclusion in the legislation of a workers' assistance program meant to provide training and health benefits to workers hurt by increased trade.
Republicans on the committee said the boycott was staged to protest the manner in which Democrats were trying to “ram-through” the legislation.
“We are not going to put up with being jammed,” Hatch said. “We have rights too, in the minority, and they have been invoked.”
Business sources said it was possible House Republicans would strike the TAA language from legislation in the House and move the South Korea deal forward by itself.
In both the fights over trade and the debt ceiling, there was little sign Thursday of either side giving an inch. The GOP walk-out on South Korea leaves the future of that trade deal in doubt along with separate pacts with Colombia and Panama.
Senate Democrats expressed outrage over the GOP tactics. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said he was dumfounded by the decision to boycott the markup of the trade deal, which the GOP had for months been demanding.
“I hear a lot about wanting to get the people's work done but then I hear objections to trying to move to try to get the people's work done,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). “So, pretty outrageous.”
Sam Youngman, Alexander Bolton, Vicki Needham, Josiah Ryan and Pete Kasperowicz contributed to this story.
This story was posted at 3:55 p.m. and updated at 6 p.m.