A debt agreement by the end of June? Don’t count on it

A DEBT AGREEMENT BY THE END OF JUNE? DON’T COUNT ON IT…. In his speech of debt reduction last week, President Obama talked about bipartisan breakthroughs that have occurred in recent memory: “Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill came together to save Social Security for future generations. The first President Bush and a Democratic Congress came together to reduce the deficit. President Clinton and a Republican Congress battled each other ferociously, disagreed on just about everything, but they still found a way to balance the budget.”

With that in mind, in the same speech, Obama noted Vice President Biden “will begin regular meetings” in a few weeks “with leaders in both parties with the aim of reaching a final agreement on a plan to reduce the deficit and get it done by the end of June.”

The president mentioned this again yesterday, telling a town-hall audience, “I’m optimistic. I’m hopeful. Both sides have come together before. I believe we can do it again.”

Now would be a good time to lower expectations.

The White House’s proposed deficit talks with Congress appear to be unraveling before they’ve even begun.

House and Senate Republican leaders announced Tuesday that their sole appointees to the May 5th meeting would be House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) — neither of whom are budget leaders and both of whom function largely as political mouthpieces for their party. GOP leaders also each opted to send only one appointee, instead of the requested four, to the meeting.

No matter what one might think of Kyl and Cantor, the truth is, these aren’t the two officials a caucus would chose if the goal is doing actual work — they’re not wonks, they don’t understand budgets, and they’re knee-jerk partisans with no record whatsoever of negotiating in good faith.

Republicans didn’t like Simpson/Bowles, they disapproved of Rivlin/Domenici, they hated President Obama’s plan because it hurt their feelings, they probably won’t care for the Gang of Six plan, and now they’re choosing not to take Biden-led discussions seriously.

For a bunch of conservatives who claim to be obsessed with debt reduction, far-right GOP leaders don’t seem especially interested in actually working on the issue.

There’s probably a good reason for this. As Matt Yglesias noted this morning, we have “conservative politicians refusing to make a serious effort to reach an agreement out of some blend of taxophobia and fear of giving the President a win.” That sounds about right.

But whatever the motivation, the notion of Republicans agreeing to any kind of sensible compromise seems remote, if not ridiculous.