WASHINGTON -- Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) accused House Speaker John Boehner on Sunday of "want[ing] to go over the edge" when it comes to negotiations to keep the government from defaulting on its debts.
The federal government will hit its debt limit sometime around the November election, but extraordinary measures, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has said, can keep the government paying its bill into the new year, when a new Congress is sworn in.
Boehner, however, began negotiations on the debt ceiling last week, saying that new tax revenues were off the table and that any increase in the debt limit must be accompanied by an equal number of cuts.
Pelosi described Boehner's approach to coming debt-ceiling negotiations as immature and irresponsible. "Last year, just the threat of not lifting the debt ceiling caused our credit rating to be lowered. This is not a responsible, mature, sensible place for us to go. We all know we have to reduce the deficit. We have to do it in a balanced way," she said on ABC's "This Week." "The speaker wants to go over the edge."
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation," said that Boehner's approach was "incredibly irresponsible" and risked the global economy.
If the speaker was serious about moving forward, Pelosi said, he should bring the middle-class tax cuts to the floor now so that they are not held hostage during negotiations after the election. "I challenge the speaker right now to bring the middle income tax cuts to the floor," she said. Pelosi praised the defense cuts that are scheduled to take effect in 2013 as a result of the previous debt ceiling deal.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pushed back against the Pentagon cuts, an indication of how hard it will be to come to a deal. "I don't think we ought to cut a penny less than we ought to cut. I'm perfectly open to how we arrange those reductions," he said on "Face the Nation."
"I happen to be among those who think it's much too tough on the Defense Department," he said.
Pelosi, while battling Boehner, has also been taking fire from her progressive flank, with former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) challenging her to reject benefit cuts for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that are included in the so-called Simpson-Bowles plan.
ABC's George Stephanopolous asked Pelosi about the feud with Feingold.
"I don't think he understands what that is," she said, referring to Simpson-Bowles. "What I said was -- and what I believe -- is that the framework of Simpson-Bowles was a very important one. It assumed the expiration of the high-end tax cuts. It took a harsh look at all of our spending, including defense spending ... What I didn't like about it was what it said about Social Security. But I said that can be handled separately."
She added that she had backed the president while he tried to reach a deal with Boehner. That deal included major cuts to social insurance programs. "We stuck with the president on the grand bargain that he had last year, that he and the speaker agreed to, and then the speaker walked away from," she said.