The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin reports that President Obama nixed a bipartisan debt agreement that was forged by leaders of the House and Senate over the weekend. If Jen's sources are correct, this would be a genuine political jaw-dropper:
A Republican aide e-mails me: “The Speaker, Sen. Reid and Sen. McConnell all agreed on the general framework of a two-part plan. A short-term increase (with cuts greater than the increase), combined with a committee to find long-term savings before the rest of the increase would be considered. Sen. Reid took the bipartisan plan to the White House and the President said no.”
If this is accurate the president is playing with fire. By halting a bipartisan deal he imperils the country’s finances and can rightly be accused of putting partisanship above all else. The ONLY reason to reject a short-term, two-step deal embraced by both the House and Senate is to avoid another approval-killing face-off for President Obama before the election. Next to pulling troops out of Afghanistan to fit the election calendar, this is the most irresponsible and shameful move of his presidency.
According to this account, with the clock ticking down to 0:00, the President of the United States pulled the rug out from under a bipartisan proposal to address the debt crisis. His administration has been arguing -- correctly -- that a partial default and/or credit downgrade could trigger a financial "armageddon" for the country. Why in the world would Obama threaten to veto a solution that averts that fate, and does so with broad cross-party agreement? I can think of two reasons: Because a thumbnail sketch of the thwarted deal suggests it would (a) decline to raise taxes, and (b) involve a legislative two-step that revives the sticky issue during next year's election season. In other words, the Boehner/Reid gambit would violate the president's ideological obsession with tax "fairness," and would inject another inconvenient narrative into his re-election campaign. These strike me as stunningly ideological and myopic justifications for scotching the first consensus deal to arise on this issue. Again, if this report is accurate, President Obama has positioned himself all alone in the driver's seat of an 18-wheeler speeding toward a cliff. He's offered no plan of his own, he's undermined a developing plan by shifting his demands late in the game, and he's rejected two separate proposals offered by Congress. Jen concludes that Obama is "playing with fire." Indeed. If his intransigence and double-dealing prevents a deal, he could singlehandedly ignite a financial brush fire that decimates the economy and burns his re-election campaign to the ground.
In public, the White House says the president would sign any bipartisan agreement that emerges from Congress. In private, the president is threatening to do the opposite. Congress should pass the deal its leaders crafted, and call Obama's bluff. An exasperated John Boehner rebuked the president for his reckless political posturing on Fox News Sunday:
Speaking of Obama's 2012 fortunes, where is the president today? Giving a speech to La Raza.
UPDATE - New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte is tweeting about this story, lending it additional credence -- and Jamie Dupree of the Atlanta Journal Constitution says his sources confirm Rubin's scoop:
The agreement involved Speaker Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Reid and Senate GOP Leader McConnell - in fact, staffers from Reid and McConnell's offices were working on the legislative language together on Sunday. But when Reid took the bipartisan/bicameral plan down to the White House, it was rejected by the President. "The Speaker, Sen. Reid and Sen. McConnell all agreed on the general framework of a two-part plan," a senior Republican aide on Capitol Hill told me. Another senior Republican aide in a different office and a GOP lawmaker confirmed the story as well.
FLASHBACK - President Obama, almost two weeks ago:
"I have shown enormous willingness to compromise and have taken huge heat for it," he said, "but my responsibility is to the American people and there comes a point when I need to say, 'Enough.'...This may bring my presidency down, but I will not yield on this,” he said.
UPDATE II - A senior GOP aide emails me with yet another confirmation of Rubin's initial report:
“Sen. Reid actually agreed with Speaker Boehner and Sen. McConnell on the general framework of a two-part plan that included no tax increases. A short-term increase (with cuts greater than the increase), combined with a committee to find long-term savings before the rest of the increase would be considered. Sen. Reid took the bipartisan proposal to the White House and the President said no.”
This looks terrible for the president. Byron York has more details.