GOP to Obama: Start dealing on debt

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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House Republicans are demanding that President Barack Obama join the negotiations over the debt ceiling.

The lead Republican at the negotiations, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, said today that the negotiations have stalled over difficult issues that can only be resolved by direct discussions between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner. (Lawmakers officially roll out ‘Cut, Cap, Balance’ pledge)

“It is time for the president to speak clearly,” Cantor said in a statement after pulling out of budget negotiations with Vice President Joe Biden.

In his weekly press conference, Boehner also called for the president to emerge from the White House. “The president is going to have to engage… [and] I would expect to hear from him.”

On Tuesday, Cantor hinted at the breakdown, when he said that negotiations had reached a critical stage. “I put the onus on the president,” he said to reporters. “I have talked about the productive talks I have had with the vice president. But the president has not seemed willing to engage and say that he is willing to do the tough stuff with us.”

Obama has kept himself far away from the debt ceiling negotiations, as part of a strategy intended to focus the public’s anger on Republican negotiators, say GOP legislators and allies.

The strategy is largely working, in part because reporters aren’t pressing the White House or focusing on the Democrats’ political dilemmas.

On June 21, for example, reporters at the White House’s daily press conference didn’t ask one question about the debt ceiling negotiations. The day before, White House spokesman Jay Carney fended off a few questions with generalities and repeated mentions of Vice President Joe Biden, who is attending the closed-door negotiating sessions in lieu of the president.

In his answers, Carney repeatedly described the vice president as the White House’s lead negotiator. “We are very focused on the talks being led by the vice president … the negotiations being led by the vice president … I don’t anticipate [Obama] joining the vice president’s meetings … the negotiations being led by the vice president … our focus right now is on the things that we are doing at a staff level today and beginning tomorrow with the vice president leading the next meeting of negotiators.”

Carney did concede that the president would have a role. “Obviously the agreement that’s reached in the Biden-led talks will then be reviewed by leaders in both parties,” he told reporters. “The president is regularly updated on the progress of those negotiations.”