All-Star Panel: What is Obama's strategy in debt ceiling conflict?

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," October 8, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, OH – R, HOUSE SPEAKER: At times like this the American people expect their leaders to sit down and have a conversation. I want that conversation to occur now. What the president said today was if there's unconditional surrender by Republicans, he will sit down and talk to us. That's not the way our government works.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Reopen the government, extend the debt ceiling. If they can't do it for a long time, do it for a period of time in which these negotiations are taking place. They can attach some process to that that gives them some certainty that, in fact, the things they are concerned about will be topics of negotiation.  If my word is not good enough, but I told them I'm happy to talk about it.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: So you're saying there's a chance? Well, we don't know. There's the back and forth today between Speaker of the House John Boehner and President Obama, who actually held essentially a news conference for about 65 minutes. This as the debt ceiling gets closer and closer, October 17th.

Take a look at two questions on our recent Fox News poll. How would you vote on raising the debt limit? In favor 37 percent, against 58 percent.  Should the debt limit be raised only after major cuts, 62 percent, yes; reckless not to 27 percent.

With that and all the back and forth, let's bring in our panel, Nina Easton, columnist for Fortune magazine, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles, it looks like, or it sounded like there was the beginning of an exit ramp, that the president was saying, yes, I'll agree to a short-term, even very short-term to talk and do this negotiation.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think he had to. I think that the dynamic here is clear. He wins on the shutdown of the government. He loses on the debt ceiling. And he is really afraid of that debt ceiling. He says he won't bend on this. Of course he will have to at the 11th hour. He can't afford to be remembered as the first president who defaulted or allowed a condition to which it could happen.

So I think what he did and what we just heard in that sound bite was he pointed to an exit ramp for the speaker. He basically says, well, I said I won't negotiate while the debt ceiling is hanging over us. So you give me a three-week extension. Boehner has said I won't give in on this and give him a clean extension. So it won't be a clean extension of the debt ceiling. It will be I'll give you three weeks, but you got to give me a committee. He told how he wants it structured, 20 members, I'll give you the agenda, it will be attached. So it will be a conditional extension. I think the president, he gets away and he finesses it. Boehner will finesse it.

Now, whether it will succeed or not I have no idea. We know what happened the last time around. They had a super committee, which didn't succeed. But that's the way you avoid the catastrophe from the president's perspective. And where you get what Boehner has said all I want is negotiation. He would get it.

BAIER: A.B., the reason they are not even calling this a super committee, this proposal, is because the super committee, by all accounts, didn't work out too well.


BAIER: And that name really doesn't hold a lot of great thoughts for both sides of the aisle. What about this? Could Speaker Boehner get something like this that Charles is talking about through?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: I think that John Boehner is looking for a punt or a detour in time for October 17th that he could call not a win, but a reasonable pause in the negotiations.


STODDARD: I think that sounds like something his members would go for because he's worked so hard to unify him, and he would still be stoking this we're in an epic battle line.

In the end he's not going to default. He is going to anger 70 or more of his members and he's going to vote with Democrats. But he's going to find a way to bring a lot of his Republican members along with him.

And what you see right now is Republicans have hit this sort of comfort zone. They are far enough away from the shutdown and close enough to the default deadline that they are able to say now to people in their districts, I would vote for a clean CR if he would put it on the floor, I just don't know if he's going to. Or if you're in a district where that's not ok you say, hell no. But everyone is getting closer to the scarier deadline for President Obama and I think that things are shifting.

BAIER: Nina?

NINA EASTON, COLUMNIST, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: I'm not quite as optimistic as both of you, but I hope you guys are right. First of all, I came at the very end of the press conference, he kind of threw that out. as I'm happy to talk, he said I'm happy to talk. I can't believe how many times he said "I'm happy to talk."

BAIER: Yeah, he also said extortion and ransom, and everything else.

EASTON: EXACTLY. You don't get the sense there was a lot of talk and happy to compromise. It was I'm happy to talk, I'll talk all day, I'll talk for hours. That's all we kept hearing.

There was also a threat from the White House this afternoon to veto a similar proposal to what you're talking about that Boehner has proposed. I think he's willing to have a talking structure, but I don't think he's willing to have a talking structure that is like a Bowles-Simpson or a super committee that would require him to make these hard choices. So I'm not sure that it's great that there's a slight opening here, but I'm not sure that that's where this is going to be.

The other thing is this president, it's clear from today's press conference that there's two strategies going on here. One is the question of getting something, moving forward on the debt limit. But the other is to stop this cycle, break the fever, the cycle of always running up to the brink. They want to stop that cold, and they think they have the political upper hand to do that.

BAIER: But on the debt ceiling, it seems like Speaker Boehner feels empowered by just his words, looking at the polls. Take a listen to him on the debt limit this afternoon.


BOEHNER: When it comes to the debt limit, I agree with the president. We should pay our bills. I didn't come here to shut down the government. I certainly didn't come here to default on our debt. But when it comes to the debt limit, again, over the last 40 years, 27 times the debt limit has been used to carry significant policy changes that would, in fact, reduce spending and put us on a saner fiscal path.

We can't raise the debt ceiling without doing something about what's driving us to borrow more money and to live beyond our means.


BAIER: Those words are appealing to a lot of Republicans, there are a lot of conservatives, and a lot of moderates, and, frankly, a lot of Democrats.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think that's the winning idea. He's got the upper hand on the debt ceiling. And I think and especially as you showed in the polls, the majority of Americans wouldn't even raise it in the absence of a deal. So it isn't as if he's holding the line is something the president is able to do. And he can't allow it to happen.

So, I think -- look, Boehner has said he didn't outline what he wanted as a conclusion. He didn't say I have to have a Bowles-Simpson commission that's going to end on this day with the following result. He just said I want to talk. He said there's nothing on the table, which is an odd statement, and there's nothing off the table.

BAIER: There is no table.

KRAUTHAMMER: There is no table? There aren't even any chairs. I'm not even sure the room exists. All he wants to do is appoint a committee, and he will decide between now and then the agenda. A short extension, which allows him to say this wasn't a cave at all. This is simply like when you have a union negotiation and you hit the midnight and extend it for a couple hours. We're going to get negotiations on spelling out x, y, and z. There's not going to be a guarantee of a result, but at least the situation he's in now, which is a losing one, the polls have showed 70 percent blame the GOP and only 50 percent the president, it gets him out of that and into new ground.

BAIER: More on the president's comments. the battle with Speaker Boehner and health care. Remember that? 

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