WH spokesman calls debt decisions ‘Sophie’s Choice,’ rejects questions on WH plan

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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White House spokesman Jay Carney stirred the partisan pot today, telling a roomful of openly skeptical reporters that a debt-ceiling compromise is easy to reach, that Republicans are partisan time-wasters, and that post-Aug. 2 spending decisions would be similar to life-or-death decisions in a Nazi concentration camp.

Without ready cash to pay for every government program, he said at the White House’s daily press conference, “It’s a Sophie’s Choice. Who do you save? Who do you pay?”

‘Sophie’s Choice’ refers to a 1982 movie that depicts a Jewish mother being forced to choose which one of her two children should be saved from one of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist death-camps.

President Barack Obama has pushed GOP legislators to approve a ‘big’ debt ceiling deal that would fund the economy and showcase his claimed role as a bipartisan consensus-builder. But those talks fell apart Friday when Obama sought an additional $400 billion in new taxes over 10 years.

That compromise would be easy to reach, he said. “There’s not much work to do … All this requires is a willingness [for the GOP] to budge off [their] absolutist position,” he said.

A pugnacious Carney pushed back when reporters asked why the administration is demanding a deal large enough to continue current spending levels until after the 2012 election. A short-term deal, he said, increases investors’ uncertainty, and “only casts further doubt … on whether Washington can get its act together.”

He ridiculed House Speaker John Boehner’s effort to get a short-term extension through the House, in the face of objects from congressional Democrats. “Why are we voting on measures that have no chance of becoming law?”

Carney rejected a question by a Fox news report for details of the administration’s debt-ceiling priorities. The president stood before you and said in his negotiation with the Speaker of the House that they came to an agreement on $650 billion in entitlement savings,” he responded, before reiterating the administration’s preference for closed-door deal-making. “You agree on the tough choices, you come out together, and you announce them,” he said.

Another reporter quizzed Carney about the administration’s spending priorities if the debt-ceiling is not raised by Aug. 2, prompting him to repeat the ‘Sophie’s Choice’ comparison. However, he refused to describe spending priorities, saying “I would refer you to … the Treasury. They’re working on [what to do] if cooler and saner heads have not prevailed in Congress.”

But, he said, “the impact will be felt dramatically … if we lose our borrowing authority and risk [debt] default.”

“In the end, [the debt-ceiling] will get done,” Carney predicted. “Unfortunately, it’s going to require this sort of brinkmanship and running out the clock process.”