President Barack Obama told a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders Thursday that he will only sign into law a budget deal that extends the debt limit past the 2012 elections.
Hill sources briefed on the meeting said the president was very clear in laying down that marker and that he gave Members three options to pursue in striking a deal: a small, medium or large agreement.
The “small” course would amount to a little more than $2 trillion in savings, or the amount Congress must lift the debt ceiling by in order to extend the government’s borrowing capacity through the election.
The “medium” package would be worth about $3 trillion in savings, or what Vice President Joseph Biden set out at the beginning of the bipartisan talks he led in May and June.
The most ambitious package, and the one the White House touted in the media late Wednesday night, would be worth $4 trillion — or the total the president’s deficit commission recommended in cuts when it produced its report last winter.
One source said Obama pushed for the larger deal and told leaders he "strongly opposes" the smaller, $2 trillion option.
Obama also asked Congressional leaders to return to the White House late Sunday afternoon in an apparent attempt to speed the process of getting an agreement to raise the debt limit and reduce the deficit.
Speaking to reporters after a Thursday morning meeting, Obama said bipartisan leadership talks were “constructive” and “frank” and that even though progress had been made, staffs would work through the weekend “so the parties will at least know where each other’s bottom lines are” on Sunday. He noted that Democrats and Republicans are still “far apart” on a deal, but both sides agree they need a deal before Aug. 2, the point at which Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said the U.S. will begin to default on its obligations.
One source said leaders were told to dress comfortably for the late Sunday afternoon meeting because it is expected to last a long time.
Obama also noted that the assembled leaders understand that a deal will need votes from both parties in each chamber.
Obama raised Social Security as a possible element of a larger deal, but press secretary Jay Carney denied there was a real shift in Obama’s position, given the president’s statement in his State of the Union address that he is open to strengthening the program without slashing benefits.
“It does not mean the president’s position has changed at all,” Carney said.
Obama emphasized that “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”
Carney said that while there was “not a specific breakthrough” Thursday, the talks were constructive and the White House still wants to see a package in the realm of $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 to 12 years.