President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders emerged from a brief White House meeting Sunday night no closer to a deal to avert government default, just weeks ahead of their Treasury-imposed deadline.
The lawmakers huddled for approximately 75 minutes in Obama’s Cabinet Room. Though all were dressed in casual attire, the lack of neckties could not hide the tension in the room, according to Congressional aides.
Obama continued to push for a sweeping $4 trillion deal, including revenue increases opposed by Republicans and entitlement reform resisted by Democrats. But his push seemed to disregard the reality that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had announced his opposition to it Saturday night.
Boehner’s Conference, increasingly swayed by its tea party freshmen, would not be sold on any sort of tax reform, according to sources familiar with recent intraparty meetings, and both Republicans and Democrats emerged from Sunday’s gathering saying the leaders will focus on the package Vice President Joseph Biden had been negotiating with a bipartisan group before it broke down last month.
In perhaps the greatest sign of the shift in progress, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), not Boehner, seemed to speak on behalf of his party in Sunday night’s meeting, according to Hill sources from both parties who were briefed on the gathering. Cantor rebuffed Obama’s drive for a “grand bargain” by continuing to insist that any new revenues must be offset with tax cuts in order for House Republicans to get on board.
Cantor had been a member of the Biden negotiations before walking away over an impasse on revenues. According to one Hill source, Obama pushed back when the Biden group was mentioned Sunday, saying Boehner had told him its work would be a tough sell in his Conference.
Congressional Democrats stood their ground on entitlements, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) saying Democrats “continue to have serious concerns about shifting billions in Medicaid costs to the states” and would fight to protect Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries. A representative for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Nevada Democrat advocated “an approach that is balanced between spending and revenues, in terms of timing, specificity and dollars.”
The leaders will meet again Monday at the White House, and the president will address the media beforehand. When asked before Sunday’s meeting whether the negotiators could hash out a deal in 10 days, Obama responded, “We need to.”
Underneath the partisan division is the looming Aug. 2 deadline for raising the debt ceiling and the ultimatum from the president that he will not sign any debt limit deal that does not extend past the 2012 elections — a sentiment he reiterated Sunday, according to sources.