House Republicans huddled with President Obama Wednesday morning and afterward cited little if any progress in reaching an agreement to raise the nation’s debt ceiling or reduce spiraling deficits.
The House GOP leadership said they gave Obama an earful on a number of economic issues, including unemployment, the national debt and government regulation. Without a deal to reduce spending, House Republicans say they will stand firm against an increase in the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) called the discussion “frank” and “productive.”
“I’m looking forward to more serious conversations on how to reduce the deficit and the debt and get our economy going again,” he said.
Other Republicans complained that the White House and Democrats still lacked a plan to cut spending.
“Unfortunately, what we did not hear from the president is a specific plan of his to deal with the debt crisis,” sad Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX).
Even though the two sides were still at loggerheads over philosophical differences afterward, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the meeting was useful to give the President and Republicans a chance to look each other in the eye and discuss their views. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was also on hand for the closed-door powwow.
“This was a large meeting and this was not the forum for specific advances in the negotiations that have been conducted with the vice president” on raising the debt ceiling, Carney said. “In this day and age for Republican and Democrats to sit down together in a non-confrontational environment, I think that’s a good thing.”
On Tuesday night House Republicans — in a largely symbolic move — voted down a bill that would raise the nation’s debt ceiling by another $2.4 trillion. Just 97 members voted in favor of the bill, while 318, including 82 Democrats, joined Republicans in voting down the measure. Republican leaders said their rank and file would reject any increase in the debt ceiling without a commitment to significantly rein in spending.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), whose proposal to create a private-voucher system for Medicare has sparked a backlash from the public, said “demagoguing” each other on the issues is counterproductive.
“We’ve got to take on this debt, and if we demagogue each other at the leadership level, we’re never going to take on this debt,” he said. “If we try to demagogue each other’s attempt to do that, than we’re not applying the political leadership that we need to get this debt under control.”
Carney pushed back against Ryan’s characterization, arguing that Democratic and GOP differences on Medicare are real and substantive.
“The substantive differences over Medicare are real,” he said. “Whatever you call the GOP proposal — it has the impact of shifting the ever-growing cost burden onto the beneficiaries. Our argument is you don’t need to do that. You can find savings in other areas…while still protecting our seniors.”
Carney also accused Republicans of protecting tax cuts for the wealthy by cutting benefits for seniors. With the differences on clear display afterward, the meeting set the stage for a sultry summer full of heated rhetoric and drawn-own negotiations over the massive debt-reduction package. Economists have given the two sides an August deadline to raise the debt ceiling or tarnish the nation’s credit standing worldwide and further harm the already fragile economic recovery.
On Wednesday morning, Boehner released a letter signed by 150 economists supporting his call for spending cuts equal to more than $2 trillion the debt ceiling is eventually raised.