Debt Talks Break Down (Again) As Boehner Walks Away

It wasn't a good day for the debt ceiling negotiations.

As I write this, President Obama is still speaking in the Brady Press Briefing Room giving his reaction to the news that the latest round of debt talks ended in inexplicable disaster:

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Friday said he ended negotiations with President Obama on a so-called grand bargain to achieve sizable deficit reduction in the context of raising the debt ceiling.

Boehner informed all House Republicans in a letter released at 6 p.m. EDT.

“A deal was never reached and was never really close,” Boehner wrote. “I have decided to end discussions with the White House and begin conversations with the leaders of the Senate in an effort to find a path forward.”

Boehner blamed Obama’s demand for higher taxes and opposition to “fundamental changes” to entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

“In the end, we couldn’t connect,” Boehner wrote. “Not because of different personalities, but because of different visions for our country. The president is emphatic that taxes have to be raised. The president is adamant that we cannot make fundamental changes to our entitlement programs.”


Senior House GOP aides said Boehner is not maneuvering and from now on the only focus of negotiations will be to produce a bill that raises the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling and meets Boehner’s longstanding demand that spending cuts exceed the amount by which the debt ceiling is lifted and the package contain no tax increases.

President Obama said in his opening statement that he had offered a package that included $1 trillion in spending cuts and $650 billion in entitlement cuts that didn’t reduce actual benefits and it’s clear that he’s rather annoyed that things have collapsed yet again.

Via CBS News here’s the letter.

Update: President Obama and Speaker Boehner have both addressed the press:

Obama walked into the White House briefing room to declare that Boehner had walked away from “an extraordinary deal.”

“Can they [Republicans] say yes to anything?” Obama said. “… I have been left at the altar a couple of times now.”

“I just got a call a half hour ago from Speaker Boehner who indicated that he was going to be walking away from negotiations with the White House for a big deficit reduction package,” Obama said. “I think we should have moved forward with a big deal. … It is hard to understand why Boehner would have walked away from this deal.”

Boehner, speaking to reporters shortly after Obama spoke, countered that it was “the president who walked away from his agreement” and demanded more revenue at the last minute.

Not surprisingly, it all came down to taxes:

Indeed, despite Boehner’s disclaimer, the outlines of a $3 trillion-plus deficit reduction package had been in place including what would have been substantial savings in Medicare and more than $1 trillion from appropriations over the next decade. Republican leadership aides, who briefed reporters on the talks, credited the administration with committing to structural changes to Medicare as well to try to bend the cost curve in a second 10 year period after 2021 as well.

Yet as in the past, revenues proved a major stumbling block even when the two sides initially thought they had the makings of a deal built around the shared goal of tax reform.

Obama insisted that the “goal posts” had not been moved, but from the Republican account, it appears the administration had agreed last Sunday to step back from its earlier demands to raise about $400 billion from tax reform. But this increase came back into play after the bipartisan Senate “Gang of Six” announced its proposal Tuesday which assumes substantially more new revenue for deficit reduction.

In both cases, the Obama-Boehner talks as well as the Senate group, the goal was to complete reform by the end of 2012, when the Bush era tax cuts are due to expire

Where things goes from here is anyone’s guess. The Congressional leadership will be at the White House in the morning but I cannot see them reaching a real agreement of any kind with, at that point, only 9 days left until the August 2nd deadline. Everyone says that defaulting is not an option but the way things are playing out, it’s hard to see how we get to any kind of a deal that would get through both Houses of Congress between now and then. I suppose that the only good thing is that this happened on a Friday evening and that we’ve got a good 48 hours before world financial markets open.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Deficit and Debt, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. James Joyner says:

    So much, for now, for my assumption that the adults would win out.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Boehner blamed Obama’s demand for higher taxes and opposition to “fundamental changes” to entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

    A country that can not take care of it’s aged, it’s disabled, it’s children, is not great,…

    It is a failure.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    and for the record, this is not “NO cuts to Medicare, NO cuts to SS” post…. I am open to compromises, I just am not hearing any. I repeat, if we can not “take care of our aged, our disabled, our children, this country is not great,…”

    It is a failure.

  4. @James Joyner:

    There are adults involved in these discussions?

  5. lunaticllama says:

    It’s clear a powerful faction of Republicans want the government to default. I don’t think it’s irrational either, because I believe they see their role as a revolutionary one. They show little interest in governing and don’t seem to understand how the legislative process even works. I think Andrew Sullivan nails it on the head:
    “They are not a political party in government; they are a radical faction that refuses to participate meaningfully in the give and take the Founders firmly believed should be at the center of American government. They are not conservatives in this sense. They are anarchists.”

  6. Herb says:

    There are adults involved in these discussions?

    There’s at least one….

  7. ponce says:

    I bet we’ll get a quick deal that kicks the debt ceiling can down the road past next year’s elections.

  8. anjin-san says:

    There are adults involved in these discussions?

    Still peddling this lame crap?

  9. Herb says:

    Pivoting off what Anjin-san said, where has he acted like a child? He’s offered Republicans a trillion dollar cut and they offer….what exactly? Where are they willing to compromise?

    No where.

    But everyone’s acting like children? What would you have the President do? Rubber-stamp Boehner’s jobs program for jet pilots? Screw that. The rubber stamp is how we got here in the first place.

  10. Hey Norm says:

    Reports I have read say there is a $4B difference in revenues but more importantly the republicans are now asking to eliminate the individual mandate and the payment advisory board. So who moved the goalposts is open for discussion.

  11. michael reynolds says:

    Yes, there are adults: they’re called Democrats.

  12. Hello World! says:

    Its pretty obvious now that the only reason the republicans are at the table is so they can stage a walk out. In their minds – because they only listen to conservative bloggers, talk radio, and fox news – thats what the american people want them to do. He and Cantor think they look like brave fighters to their naive constituents. Instead, Boehner looks out of touch with the state of the economy and the need for more jobs and anything else the american people really need.

  13. jukeboxgrad says:


    It’s clear a powerful faction of Republicans want the government to default.

    It’s more than a faction. It seems to be a majority of Republicans. Take a look at this CNN poll (pdf). Notice this question: “[Do] you OPPOSE raising the debt ceiling even if Congress takes action to reduce the amount the government owes.” This is the tea party position, the Bachmann position: she said she would vote against raising the debt ceiling, period. Even if congress passes a plan to cut spending and not raise taxes. Overall, 36% answer yes to this question. But among Rs, 51% say yes. That is, a narrow majority of Rs think the debt ceiling should not go up, period, even if Obama caves completely and agrees to a plan that is all spending cuts and zero revenue increases.

  14. sfp says:

    @Hello World!:

    I mostly agree, but I’m pretty sure that Boehner knows exactly where he stands, which is hamstrung by the ideologues in the party.

    If I’m him, I seriously consider declaring defeat and leaving–either resigning from Congress, or letting Cantor take the gavel (and the fall when everything goes to shit). .

  15. mike says:

    I hope this doesn’t reveal too much about my lack of knowledge on this subject but – what happens next week if there is no deal? Do parts of government get shut down?Like rolling blackouts? Is this likely at this point?

  16. WR says:

    @ponce: I’m voting for anyone who proposes a constitutional amendment banning the use of the phrase “kick the can down the road.” Right after the one banning “threw him under the bus.”

  17. ratufa says:


    This is a brief analysis of what might happen if the debt ceiling isn’t raised:

    It doesn’t include possible effects upon state governments and their budgeting.

  18. Dustin says:

    So Boehner says that the deal was broken because Obama asked for revenue “at the last minute” and then in the next breath says that a deal was “never really close”? Which is it? How do you ask for something at the last minute, when there was no deal a minute away from being complete?