WASHINGTON -- Hours ahead of his first meeting with President Barack Obama aimed at jump-starting stalled deficit talks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is already drawing a line in the sand for the president: No deal if tax increases and stimulus spending are in the mix.
"Later today, I will sit down with President Barack Obama to discuss his request to increase the nation's debt ceiling," McConnell wrote in a Monday op-ed for CNN.com. "And I will make a request of my own: What, Mr. President, are you prepared to do about the massive deficits and debt that have grown dramatically on your watch?"
“What Republicans want is simple: We want to cut spending now, we want to cap runaway spending in the future and we want to save our entitlements and our country from bankruptcy by requiring the nation to balance its budget,” McConnell said. "The Democrats' response has been a mystifying call for more stimulus spending and huge tax hikes on American job creators. That's not serious, and it is my hope that the president will take those off the table today so that we can have a serious discussion about our country's economic future."
Monday's meeting marks the first time Obama and McConnell are getting directly involved in bipartisan talks to strike a deal on a $2.4 trillion deficit reduction package. Biden had been leading talks on the issue for weeks until last week, when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) pulled out of the group and said it was time for Obama to step in to break an impasse on tax increases.
Thus far, Republicans have refused to allow new revenues to be part of the deal, while Democrats insist that spending cuts alone aren’t fair. Instead, Democrats are calling for new stimulus spending on infrastructure and clean energy jobs, as well as eliminating Bush tax cuts for millionaires and closing overseas tax loopholes for U.S. corporations.
But McConnell said "the obvious solution" is deep spending cuts -- in particular, Republicans have called for cuts to Medicare -- and said Democrats' arguments for more stimulus spending fall flat given the success of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, the $830 billion stimulus package passed in 2009.
"When Democrats passed [ARRA], they made two predictions: first, that it would keep unemployment below 8 percent, and second, that it was a one-time cash infusion meant to prevent a wider crisis. Two years later, unemployment hovers above 9 percent, and Democrats now demand that we add new stimulus funding," said the Kentucky Republican.
"Americans didn't elect dozens of additional Republicans to the House of Representatives last November because they wanted their taxes raised. They sent them here to reverse the runaway spending policies that failed."
The deficit talks are being fueled by an increasing sense of urgency as negotiators inch closer to Aug. 2, when the government is expected to hit its debt limit -- or essentially run out of money to pay for its bills. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney regularly says allowing the nation's debt to default would be "Armageddon-like" and "catastrophic," but Republicans maintain they will not vote to raise the debt limit without tying the vote to a deficit reduction package.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also entered into talks Monday. He met privately with Obama and Biden in the morning, ahead of their meeting with McConnell.
What happens if the U.S. defaults? See the slideshow below.