Corker: "It's incredibly frustrating..."
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB/AP) – One of Tennessee's Senators says the nation's debt crisis has left the country in a dangerous position.
"Discussions have broken down, I think people realize that," Senator Bob Corker told Channel 3 Eyewitness News on Monday. "The fact is, our country is in a very dire situation. We have been spending at levels we haven't seen since 1945 and that is on an upward trajectory, not downward. So we have to rectify that."
With pressure continuing to build, but no breakthroughs in sight, budget bargaining between President Barack Obama and top lawmakers resumes Monday at the White House, with both sides hoping to slash the deficit as the price for permitting the government to borrow more than $2 trillion to pay its bills.
In a rare Sunday meeting in the White House Cabinet Room, Obama continued to push for a "grand bargain" in the range of $4 trillion worth of deficit cuts over the coming decade, but momentum is clearly on the side of a smaller measure of perhaps half that size.
"I really do think Speaker Boehner wanted to see a grand bargain." Senator Corker said. "I think the President wanted to see a grand bargain. I think both sides do."
An August 2 deadline looms to stave off a potentially disastrous first-ever default on U.S. obligations, but the two sides seem no closer than they were when Republicans withdrew from talks led by Vice President Joe Biden more than two weeks ago, citing an impasse on taxes.
Last week, Boehner and Obama had private talks that led Democrats to believe the House speaker was willing to entertain revenue increases as part of a full overhaul of the tax code later this year in exchange for Democrats agreeing to stiff curbs on the growth of Medicare and lower increases in Social Security cost-of-living adjustments. But Boehner recoiled and abandoned the idea Saturday night in a move that rattled the talks.
"The sides are at loggerheads," Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said in a nationally broadcast interview Monday morning.
Monday's meeting will feature a discussion of tentative agreements reached in the discussions led by Biden. They include cuts to farm subsidies, student aid, federal workers' pensions and domestic agency budgets, among others.
Van Hollen blamed Republicans, saying "they refuse to eliminate any of these tax breaks for corporate special interests - corporate jets, oil and gas companies and folks at the very high end of the income scale."
"There haven't been any real, tangible cuts laid out over, I think, more than about half a billion dollars over ten years, which again is not enough to take us where we need to go," said Corker.
The President warned that failure to reach agreement could create another recession and throw millions of Americans out of work, painting a picture of catastrophe if a partisan stalemate is not broken and Congress fails to act. He criticized politicians who say the debt ceiling doesn't need to be raised.
"For me to be able to support a debt ceiling increase, there have to be dramatic changes in spending. So far, I don't think that's come forth," Corker said.
And on Monday, the Number 2 Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, implored fellow lawmakers to "stay, close the deal" on a new budget plan.
Durbin opposed a short-term or stopgap measure, saying "I'm worried about this idea that we can lurch from week to week and month to month." He said that if Democrats and Republicans cannot come to an accord, public outrage will be "on our shoulders."
"We can't even get a budget produced. It's incredibly frustrating when you know that our country is moving to such a perilous place that you can cannot even get a majority to produce a budget," Senator Corker stated.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner cautioned Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that a package about half the size of the one Obama prefers would be equally tough to negotiate because it, too, could require hundreds of billions in new tax revenue - anathema to Republicans.
Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund's new chief, Christine Lagarde, said that if the U.S. fails to raise its debt limit, she foresees "interest hikes, stock markets taking a huge hit and real nasty consequences" for the American and global economies.
"I would hope that there is enough bipartisan intelligence and understanding of the challenge that is ahead of the United States, but also the rest of the world," she said.
"I am just concerned for our country," Corker adds.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.