A renewed sense of urgency surrounded three days of talks last week among members of Vice President Joe Biden's budget working group as the focus shifted back to non-defense discretionary spending in the federal budget. According to reports, some of those conversations included strong exchanges between members of the group, and a workable resolution for increasing the nation's debt limit and reducing the federal budget deficit remains elusive. The group will meet regularly, at least three days a week, during the next three weeks with hopes of crafting a politically and fiscally feasible proposal.
"We got into some very controversial areas today. We're all still at the table," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) at the conclusion of one session last week. "We had a very substantive, I would say robust, discussion today and we're going back tomorrow. We're reaching the point where we're going to have to come to some picture of what things can look like relatively soon."
Biden shared Cantor's cautious optimism, saying "We're down to the real tough stuff right now, everybody's in the room, everybody's still in the game."
To be sure, the sides remain a significant distance apart with regard to shrinking the federal deficit. Some reports indicate a divide of more than $1.1 trillion over 10 years, and time is running out. Biden and the White House have pegged the July 4 holiday as the target date to propose a comprehensive deficit-reduction plan.
Democrats steadfastly support including additional revenues in any pact that is reached. Boehner, Cantor and a majority of Republicans, meanwhile, are adamant that any increase in the nation's debt ceiling must be offset by the same or a greater amount in deficit reduction.
This hard-line stance has significant support among Tea Party Republicans who have made deficit reduction and spending cuts a hallmark of their election campaigns. A majority of independent budget analysts have argued that the critical elements of a deficit-reduction framework are targeted appropriations cuts, additional revenues and entitlement savings, with emphasis on government-backed plans such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
"We are looking to try and achieve real reforms, real reduction in spending, so that we can accomplish this and hopefully get to a better economic outlook," Cantor said after last Wednesday's meeting. "Because if you don't, if you just check the box and raise the debt ceiling, I believe the markets take care of it for you. Interest rates will skyrocket, and there will be no way for us to see any return to growth anytime soon. We will have to raise taxes and the rest. No one wants that."
Although the next three weeks of negotiations will be critical, an accord from this group is only the first hurdle any deal will have to overcome. If an agreement is forged, a formal pact then will have to be negotiated between President Obama, House Speaker Boehner John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). It will then require formal passage in Congress before August 2, according to the Treasury Department, for the United States to avoid officially defaulting on its credit obligations.
Supreme Court Rules for Retailer Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart will not have to defend itself against a large class-action sexual discrimination lawsuit brought by female employees, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a significant win for the large nationwide retailer. The Court's ruling overturns an earlier decision handed down by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year.
Some 1.6 million women stood to benefit from the ability to litigate collectively their case against the company, but they now will have to pursue their cases individually. Wal-Mart's vast resources make it a daunting prospect for any individual plaintiff to take on the corporate giant in court.
The ruling was perhaps the most anticipated of the Court's session and could eventually turn out to be a watershed moment in terms of labor law in the United States. Class-action suits brought against the tobacco industry and similarly situated Costco could very well be affected moving forward as a result.
Although the Court was unanimous in its ruling that the class-action portion of the suit could not stand, the justices split along ideological lines with regard to an aspect of the case that could potentially bar future litigation from obtaining class-action status.
Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority, which included the other four conservative Justices on the Court, saying the case would need to show similarities linking "literally millions of employment decisions at once" to qualify for class-action status. With the Wal-Mart case, that connection "is entirely absent" with regard to all company policies, Scalia wrote.
Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg wrote the dissenting opinion, saying "Wal-Mart's delegation of discretion over pay and promotions is a policy uniform throughout all stores."