Senate to skip recess next week, get back to work on debt

McClatchy NewspapersJune 30, 2011 

WASHINGTON — The Senate will work next week instead of taking a lengthy Fourth of July recess after President Barack Obama insisted that lawmakers should stay in Washington to try to resolve the impasse over how to reduce federal deficits and raise the debt ceiling.

"It is often said that with liberty comes responsibility. We should take that responsibility seriously. I know I do," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday. "That is why the Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, the day after the Fourth of July."

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., quickly responded with a plan of his own: He invited Obama to come to the Capitol this afternoon to meet with the Senate's 47 Republicans.

"The president says he wants us to get working. I can't think of a better way than to have him come over and hear directly from our conference about the legislative realities in the Congress right now," McConnell said.

The sudden change in the Senate's attitude came after Obama was harsh in his criticism of Congress' work habits.

"They're in one week. They're out one week. And then they're saying, 'Obama's got to step in.' You need to be here," he told a news conference. "I've been here."

The House of Representatives has not been in session since Friday, and is not scheduled to return until July 6. The Senate was scheduled to leave late Thursday and not return until July 11.

But looming is an August 2 deadline to either raise the nation's debt limit, currently $14.3 trillion, or face government default _which could trigger chaos in financial markets and kick the economy back into recession.

Vice President Joe Biden had been chairing close-door bipartisan talks aimed at finding a way to cut deficits by trillions over 10 years — a plan that would be attached to the debt limit increase. But those discussions ended a week ago when Republicans pulled out, saying Democrats refused to back off their insistence that tax increases be part of the deal.

Obama reiterated that insistence Wednesday, saying "I think it's only fair to ask an oil company or a corporate jet owner that has done so well to give up that tax break that no other business enjoys."

The Senate's return to work will be largely symbolic, since negotiations are being conducted by Obama and congressional leaders, though having the rank and file in town could give leaders a quick read on what is acceptable.

Obama became personally involved in the debt talks Monday, meeting separately with McConnell and later with Reid. Wednesday, Obama met with other Senate Democratic leaders.

It was unclear when talks could resume, but with both houses in Washington next week, prospects of discussion improved.

But the partisan rhetoric has grown more harsh this week, and after announcing that the Senate would skip its recess, Reid criticized Republicans.

"There are some Republicans in Congress who say the U.S. government has less responsibility to pay its bills than struggling families across the country," Reid charged.

"Republicans say this crisis is about spending more or growing government. They are wrong. This crisis is about paying the bills for things we've already bought. For example, a decade of tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, which came from borrowed money."

McConnell quickly went to the Senate floor and fired back, saying there will be no tax rate increases. "All of us know that Congress isn't going to approve hundreds of billions of dollars in tax hikes - it's not going to happen," he said. "We've known that for six months - and we've been saying it all along."

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McClatchy Newspapers 2011

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