The tortuous search for a deal to boost the federal debt limit and trim the deficit took a sharp turn for the worse on July 22 as negotiations between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) broke down.
The breach is not the last word on the issue, however. Obama has called Boehner and other congressional leaders to the White House for a July 23 meeting to seek ways to avoid federal default by the Aug. 2 deadline. And Boehner says he will work with congressional leaders of both parties on a debt limit and deficit-cutting plan.
Construction economists have said a failure to raise the debt limit would have a severe, widspread impact on the industry, but a debt-ceiling deal that also has deep federal spending cuts almost certainly would hit construction programs.
In press conferences in the evening of July 22, Obama and Boehner gave equally blunt, but unsurprisingly different explanations for what happened in their last meeting, on the previous day.
Obama told reporters at the White House shortly after 6 p.m. that Boehner had phoned him about a half-hour earlier to say he would be, in Obama's words, "walking away" from the talks.
Obama said the deal Boehner had turned down was "extraordinarily fair," totaling about $3 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years. It included more than $1 trillion in domestic discretionary and defense spending cuts, $650 billion in reductions in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and $1.2 trillion in additional revenue.
He said the added revenue would come from eliminating some "loopholes" and deductions, with generally lower tax rates and a broadening of the tax base.
The President said he had compromised more, presumably on entitlements, than his fellow Democrats wanted and added, "It is hard to understand why Speaker Boehner would walk away from this kind of deal."
For his part Boehner said, "The White House moved the goal post." Speaking at a later press conference in the Capitol, he added, "There was an agreement on some additional revenue" of about $800 billion over 10 years. But then, he said, "at the last minute" on July 21, "The President demanded $400 billion more, which was going to be nothing more than a tax increase on the American people."
Boehner added, "The extra $400 billion would have had to come from increasing taxes on the very people that we expect to invest in our economy and to create jobs."
Boehner said, "They also refused to get serious about cutting spending and making the tough choices that are facing our country on entitlement reform."
The administration has said the deadline for raising the $14.3-trillion debt ceiling is Aug. 2.
Despite the breakdown of the talks, Obama said, "I remain confident that we will get an extension of the debt limit and we will not default. I am confident of that." But he added, "I am less confident at this point that people are wiling to step up to the plate and actually deal with the underlying problem of debt and deficits."
Obama also said he has called Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to the White House for a July 23 late-morning meeting.
"We have run out of time," Obama said, "and they are going to have to explain to me how it is that we are going to avoid default." He said he would look at any plans they present, and added, "The only bottom line that I have is that we have to extend this debt ceiling through the next election, into 2013."
Boehner said he would attend the White House meeting but also said he planned to work with other congressional leaders from both parties to come up with an agreement.