Negotiations between the parties on how to raise the federal debt ceiling begin today. The Republicans are represented by Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Daniel Inouye, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, and South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn are negotiating for the Democrats. Vice President Joe Biden is overseeing the discussions at the Blair House. Both sides hope to hammer out a deal in time to prevent the government from defaulting on its debt, which could happen if a deal isn't reached over the summer. The biggest sticking point in the discussions is likely to be whether a deal will include measures to increase revenue—such as eliminating tax breaks—or will only focus on cuts. While Republicans are adamant that the deal should not raise taxes, Democrats are also hardening their position that a deal cannot only focus on spending cuts. "Revenue has to be a part of this discussion," Van Hollen told Bloomberg TV. [See political cartoons about the budget and the deficit.]
Free Trade Agreements
Congress may be moving closer to passing free trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea, and Panama, after the administration announced it was ready to begin negotiations over technical aspects of the deals. According to House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp and Subcommittee on Trade Chairman Kevin Brady, the agreements could be ready for a vote by July 1. While Republicans generally support the agreements as a way to boost the American economy, many pro-labor Democrats have been skeptical. On Tuesday, Ways and Means Ranking Member Sander Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, released a statement with Washington Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott supporting the agreement with South Korea and Panama but condemning the agreement with Colombia, claiming that it doesn't do enough to protect workers.