WASHINGTON -- In a bad sign for the stalled debt talks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ratcheted up the rhetoric in the ongoing blame game Thursday, saying it would be all President Obama's fault if the nation suffers a catastrophic default on its financial obligations.
McConnell had already proposed shifting all the responsibility to the White House by offering a plan that would let the administration make cuts and hike the debt ceiling in increments, with Congress having the right to say no only if super majorities object.
McConnell got hammered by Tea Party activists for trying to "abdicate" his responsibility, but he made plain in a radio interview Wednesday that the object was to duck political blame for the budget crisis -- which he suspected would land on his side.
He made the case again on the Senate floor Thursday morning, arguing the crisis was not sparked by the GOP's unprecedented decision to link future spending cuts to paying past debts -- which Obama embraced -- but by the President's unwillingness to accept the Republican demands.
“I was truly hopeful that the President could be persuaded to view the upcoming debt limit vote as an opportunity to cut Washington spending and the debt that has ballooned since he took office, and preserve entitlements," McConnell said. "But, in the end, he just wasn’t interested in something that would pass."
“He gave us three bad choices: higher taxes, smoke and mirrors, or default," McConnell argued. "And we refuse to accept any of them."
He then explicitly blamed the president.
"If the President wants to threaten seniors or veterans or rattle the world economy by pretending he can’t pay our bills, let him," McConnell said. “But he’s not going to implicate Republicans in these efforts."
McConnell also explained why he came up with a plan to shift the responsibility for the debt ceiling to Obama.
"If the President would rather default than cut back the size and scope of government, let him explain that," he said. "If he’d rather preserve his vision of Washington than protect entitlements, let him explain that."
“But don’t expect any more cover from Republicans on it than you got on health care," McConnell added. “None."
His attempt to reframe of the debate followed a memo from the National Republican Senatorial Committee Wednesday that offered GOP candidates talking points for blaming the White House.
Even House Speaker John Boeher (R-Ohio) -- with whom Obama had reportedly made some progress -- shifted the onus onto the White House after the bond-rating agency Moody's threatened to cut the nation's credit rating, a move that suggested consequences of the GOP-led standoff are imminent.
"If the White House does not take action soon to address our nation’s debt crisis by reining in spending, the markets may do it for us," Boehner said, although a hike in the interest rates the nation pays on its debt would also increase the debt even more.
Boehner's spokesperson, Michael Steel, confirmed Thursday that the speaker had rejected an invitation to continue budget meetings over the weekend.
“The speaker has told the White House he sees no need to go to Camp David this weekend,” said Steel.
The White House did not return a request for comment.
One Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, laid blame on both sides, saying the fight had become an entirely political prelude to 2012 with Democrats set to say they preserved key programs and Republicans running "with spending being the issue."
"Basically, most senators in this body are nothing but two-bit pawns -- two-bit pawns -- as a political fight is under way, basically, to lay out the groundwork, if you will, for 2012 election," Corker said. "I mean, that's what's really happening now in this body, and I think we all know that."
For their part, Democrats focused blame on the Republicans, saying they have been intransigent. They especially singled out the second most powerful man in the House, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.)
Cantor, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday, has been the only member of the Republican side to offer no constructive suggestions in the deadlocked debt talks, and in fact is helping to create the opposition on his side.
"Look, the people who say we should default -- it's OK to default -- just have their head in the sand, and no one can figure it out," Schumer told reporters. "And that's one of the places where Leader Cantor has, instead of trying to educate his new members about that -- because he knows darn well the consequences of default -- he sort of eggs them on. And it is irresponsible."
Asked explicitly if the debt talks would be easier without Cantor involved, Schumer said flatly, "Yes."
In response, Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring said, "How would Sen. Schumer know? He's not in the debt talks. In fact, he has done absolutely nothing to work toward solving this problem."
"In contrast, Eric has been in negotiations with the White House for two months, trying to bridge the gap and forge an agreement," Dayspring continued. "Perhaps if Senator Schumer spent more time working to try to resolve the situation and less time inflaming it, we'd all be better off."
This article has been updated to include remarks from Sen. Schumer and a spokesperson for Rep. Cantor.
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