“He said to me: ‘Eric, don’t call my bluff. I’m going to the American people with this.’ I was somewhat taken aback,” the Virginia Republican said.
Cantor said the president then “shoved back, said, ‘I’ll see ya tomorrow,’ and he walked out.”
Democratic sources contend that Obama calmly exited the room, despite initial reports that the exit was more dramatic.
According to one Democratic source, Obama responded to Cantor’s suggested short-term solution by saying, “What’s happening in this room confirms what everybody thinks about Washington, D.C., which is that people are more interested in protecting their base and political posturing than solving problems.”
Indeed, the fight overshadowed what would have been the larger news of both the Moody’s announcement and the common ground in discretionary cuts, which could prove to be a crucial base as Democrats dig in on entitlements and Republicans on taxes. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) both issued statements Wednesday saying that the Moody’s warning underscores the urgency of the situation.
When the group gathers at 4:15 p.m. Thursday, it plans to discuss cuts to mandatory spending, revenues and a trigger mechanism for how the limits would be enforced going forward.
During the discussion Wednesday about cutting discretionary spending, Boehner said White House officials were relying on “budgetary gimmicks,” according to a GOP aide familiar with the talks. Boehner then told Obama, “We’re not doing that anymore” and asked the president to identify “real cuts,” which Democrats say they are confident they have found.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell cast a positive light on Wednesday’s meeting, even as Cantor was shaking things up on the other side of the Capitol. “We had another useful discussion, and we’re going to meet again tomorrow,” the Kentucky Republican said.
Both Democrats and Republicans are shoring up their contingency plans in case the group hits an impasse.
Before the meeting, top Democratic leaders from both chambers huddled Wednesday afternoon to try to form a united front in the talks and gave more life to a new emergency plan from Senate Republicans that would avert the looming default.
The Democrats hoped to coalesce around a loose outline to bolster their leverage as Republicans, especially in the House, continue to appear fractured. They also discussed alternatives if the negotiations fail to produce a workable deal, according to sources familiar with the discussion.
Democrats also discussed forming a Members-only commission to review the national debt. The panel would be modeled after the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Commission and would include an expedited path for floor votes on any agreement the commission might reach. Senate Republicans blocked a similar proposal last year, and aides of both parties scoffed at the idea of yet another Congressional commission that would review the problem but ultimately not legislate.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.