President Barack Obama continued his push for a grand bargain, an immigration overhaul and the rest of his agenda in a meeting with House Republicans on Wednesday, but GOP leaders immediately shut the door on any compromises that would include new taxes.
Obama appealed to Republicans to come to the table on a bipartisan budget package — saying he’s willing to back $2 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax revenue — and he argued that reaching agreement on immigration would benefit them politically.
But he also told them balancing the budget over the next 10 years is not on his priority list.
Republicans thanked the president for the rare sojourn to the Capitol and said they hoped that this would start a new dialogue with the president on a range of issues. But many lawmakers said deep suspicions and divisions remain.
GOP leaders immediately held a news conference where they praised the president’s visiting but reiterated their opposition to his tax demands.
“If the president wants to let our unwillingness to raise taxes get in the way, then we are not gonna be able to set differences aside and focus on what we agree on,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said. Cantor suggested that there are “low-hanging fruit” among spending cuts that both sides support.
And Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio said he’s heard the president before but that it was good for his members to hear it.
“Republicans want to balance the budget, the president doesn’t. Republicans want to solve our long-term debt problem. The president doesn’t. We want to unlock our energy resources to put more Americans back to work. The president doesn’t. But, having said that, today was a good start, and I hope that these kind of discussions can continue,” he said.
Boehner: Cuts Held ‘Hostage’
Obama, members said, talked about areas where he was willing to trim entitlements, including adopting a stingier measure of inflation and means-testing Medicare — but he explicitly tied those proposals to new revenue. Or, in the words of Boehner, he threatened to hold cuts “hostage.”
“He does not want balance the budget in 10 years and he wants tax increases and he wants new spending, but other than that we are close,” quipped Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
Obama also faced tough questioning on the sequester-related closing of White House public tours — the president pointed the finger at the Secret Service, causing an audible gasp in the audience.
When the president announced in the middle of the meeting that white smoke had been seen at the Vatican — signifying a new pope — Rep. Billy Long of Missouri seized the occasion. “Billy just blurted out, as Billy does, ‘Does that mean we’ll have tours at the White House?’ and it broke the place up and even the president laughed at that,” Nebraska’s Lee Terry said. Obama reportedly replied that tours of the Vatican were still available.
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