From left: House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Speaker John Boehner, President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell meet in the White House on Monday to continue deficit talks.
After a weekend during which Republicans made it clear they would reject any debt limit deal that included tax increases, it was the Democrats’ turn Monday to push back and say they will turn down any deal that lacks it.
In the second closed-door meeting at the White House in less than 24 hours, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) flatly warned that Democrats would not provide votes for any deficit reduction package that didn’t include revenue raisers — whether that deal is a large $4 trillion package or a smaller $2.5 trillion proposal, aides said.
The at-times uncomfortable session was also marked by a sharp exchange between Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Indeed, it appeared that Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden and the top eight Congressional leaders had ended the day in another stalemate, after spending nearly two hours reviewing the details of a preliminary $1.7 trillion package produced by Biden’s group of negotiators before Republicans walked away from those talks last month over the prospect of tax increases.
Of course, Democrats have also not budged from their position of protecting entitlements. They balked at a proposal presented by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) that would cut $250 billion in Medicare, much of which would result in charging seniors higher copays, according to Democratic officials familiar with the talks.
Cantor tried to sell the Medicare proposal as a part of a previous agreement among Biden group participants, but when confronted by the vice president, Cantor was forced to admit that they had not, in fact, agreed to such a deal, the officials said.
Cantor spokeswoman Laena Fallon disputed the account late Monday. “The Medicare proposals that Eric discussed today at the White House were identified in the Biden talks and discussed by the Vice President and the bipartisan participants in the talks as an area of potential savings ... which had been under discussion for weeks,” she said in a statement.
Tensions came to a head in a particularly heated exchange between Obama and Boehner — who held dueling press availabilities within two hours of each other Monday. The Speaker attacked Democrats for being reckless spenders and said that entitlement cuts “aren’t easy for us to vote for, either. Our guys aren’t cheerleading about cutting entitlements,” according to a GOP aide.
Obama then referred to the House-approved budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and said, “Your guys already voted for them,” prompting Boehner to shoot back: “Excuse us for trying to lead.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.