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Ahead of a third consecutive day of meetings on raising the nation's debt ceiling, Republican leaders signaled increasing pessimism about the likelihood of a deal and laid the blame for deteriorating negotiations squarely on President Obama's shoulders.
"I was one of those who had long hoped we could do something big for the country," Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, said in a floor speech Tuesday. "But in my view, the president has presented us with three choices: smoke and mirrors, tax hikes, or default. Republicans choose none of the above."
McConnell said Obama for too long failed to lead on the issue, and since becoming more engaged has only "put the burden on us" and "retreated behind the poll-tested rhetoric of class warfare."
Saying Americans back the GOP's demand for major spending cuts, McConnell claimed that the White House "is just not interested in a meaningful and lasting solution to our mounting debt," and instead is "too committed to big government."
"After years of discussions and months of negotiations, I have little question that as long as this president is in the Oval Office, a real solution is unattainable," McConnell said.
At a news conference elsewhere in the Capitol, House Speaker John Boehner said it was time Obama offered a specific plan of his own.
"This debt limit increase is his problem, and I think it's time for him to lead by putting his plan on the table -- something that Congress can pass," he said. "When's he going to lay his cards on the table?"
The harsh rhetoric from Republicans comes one day after Obama used the presidential bully pulpit to challenge Republicans to back off their "maximalist" positions and seize a rare opportunity for a major deal. He said he would not sign a deal that raises the debt ceiling for only a matter of months in return for spending cuts alone, but again argued for a "balanced approach" that would include new revenues -- Republicans say new taxes.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called McConnell's remarks "unfortunate."
"This president's going to be in office for at least another 18 months. And I think the American people expect this Congress to work with him," he said. "Despite elevated rhetoric, the fact is that everyone recognizes ... that there is no alternative here to taking action and dealing with the problems before us -- that there has to be a compromise."
Lawmakers are due to return to the White House at 3:45 p.m. EDT for their fourth round of negotiations in six days. Paradoxically, it seems that the more negotiators meet, the more toxic the situation becomes.
The Treasury Department has said a deal to raise the borrowing capacity must be reached by Aug. 2 or else the nation faces a potentially catastrophic default.