Debt Ceiling Clock Ticks Down as Talks Heat Up on Capitol Hill

Democrats say Republicans "more serious about politics than deficits."

ByABC News
June 28, 2011, 5:28 PM

June 28, 2011 -- As the calendar flips closer with each day to the Aug. 2 deadline for action on the nation's debt ceiling, today's fiercely partisan rhetoric on Capitol Hill shows that members of Congress have a lot of work to do before a deal is reached, and that both sides are digging in deeper than ever.

On the Senate floor this morning, Democrats blasted Republican leaders, saying they're "more serious about politics than deficits." The proverbial fingers were pointed early this morning as Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called out Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for singlehandedly standing in the way of reform.

"The person standing in the way right now is Sen. McConnell," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "His 'my way or the highway' approach is what is standing in the way of getting an agreement."

Before Monday's meeting with President Obama at the White House, McConnell staked out a hard-line position on taxes -- saying that tax hikes should remain off the negotiating table.

"You can't be serious about deficits and at the same time recklessly jeopardize our economic standing in the world in order to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest few," Schumer said today. "Right now in America, middle-class families are living paycheck to paycheck while Sen. McConnell and his colleagues are going to the mat to protect billions in tax breaks to oil companies. "

In the negotiations, Democrats are pushing Republicans to close tax breaks for major oil and gas companies, end tax loopholes for corporate jets and impose regular income tax rates on the carried interest earned by investment fund managers.

Striking a populist theme in the Democrats recent messaging over what the Republicans' demands represent to them, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that Republicans needed to put the economy ahead of politics.

"What could be worth walking away from the negotiating table? Tax breaks for wealthy oil companies and corporate jets," Reid said. "Republicans have gone to the mat for Big Oil, fighting again and again to preserve wasteful taxpayer-funded giveaways to companies that made $32 billion in profits in the first quarter of this year alone. And Republicans walked away from the negotiating table to save tax breaks for corporate jets."

Reid said that Republicans "don't seem to care about the consequences" to middle-class Americans. McConnell said today that he is "perplexed" as to why Democrats and the White House are still discussing tax increases, and noted that the path forward "seems to be blocked by an insistence on raising taxes in the middle of an economic slowdown.

"They're saying that it's essential. We think it's a job-killing step that shouldn't be taken. And Republicans are not interested in going in that direction," McConnell said.

Sen. Kyl of Arizona, the Republican Whip, said most tax increases harm the economy and are wrong for the country.

"When you have the kind of sensitive economy that we have right now, with less than 2 percent growth in the last quarter, the last thing you want to do to an ailing economy is to saddle it with more taxes. That's why we're opposed to talking about taxes in this context."

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn, who caucuses with Democrats, said today that members of both parties seem "downcast about the failure of the process" of the debt talks.

Wednesday the Senate Democratic leadership heads to the White House to meet with President Obama on the ongoing negotiations. The meeting follows Obama's one-on-one Monday reunions with Reid and McConnell, following the breakdown of Vice President Joe Biden's debt-ceiling talks on the Hill last week.

The Republican leadership, aside from McConnell, have not yet received a White House invitation.