In what was described as tense and dramatic Wednesday evening meeting on the debt ceiling, President Obama repeatedly clashed with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) while giving both sides a Friday deadline on whether to go for a long-term reduction in deficit-spending or find a way simply to avoid a default.
At one point, Cantor pushed for a short-term extension of the Aug. 2 deadline for Congress to raise the nation’s borrowing rate, a request Obama shot-down, according to a Democrat familiar with the discussions. He also told the group of Congressional leaders that they can’t accomplish anything if everyone keeps sitting in their own corners refusing to budge and move beyond their political comfort zones.
After the the closed-door session at the White House, Cantor told Fox News that Obama ended the meeting by abruptly walking out of the room and all progress thus far had been erased in the Wednesday meeting.
One Democrat familiar with what transpired took issue with Cantor’s account, blaming him for obstinately continuing to press for a short-term extension after Obama has already rejected the idea, describing the scene as Cantor’s back-of-the-plane moment, a reference to the incident when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) bitterly complained about sitting in the back of Air Force One and later shutdown the government.
When Obama was concluding the meeting, giving the closing remarks and talking about returning to the White House for a Thursday meeting, Cantor interrupted him and raised for the third time doing the possibility of a short-term extension, according to the Democrat. At that point, Obama had had enough and shut him down, said, “See you guys tomorrow,” and left.
Republicans dispute the account, saying it was Obama who lost his cool and stormed out. Cantor’s push for a short-term extension, a GOP aide said, was completely warranted because the White House had been “walking back” the savings on the number discussed during the earlier negotiations with Vice President Biden all week.
“Thursday it was $2 trillion, Monday it was $1.7-1.8 trillion, Tuesday it was $1.6-1.7-1.8 trillion,” the staffer said. “This morning our staff met with White House folks and the wrap-up from that meeting said that the White House is now at $1.5 trillion.”
Given those figures, Cantor pointed out that right now the two sides were very far apart on their goal of reaching $2.4 trillion in savings, which would satisfy minimum House GOP goals. Cantor told the president that he was moving the goal posts, and pressed for s short-term extension.
That’s when Obama got visibly angry, telling Cantor that he could reach major savings if Republicans would agree to revenue increases, according to the GOP aide. He then upped the stakes by telling the group that he isn’t afraid to veto a bill Congress produces and take the message and defend it to the American people.
Obama also let it be known that he had enough, noting that if U.S. defaults, it would amount to a tax increase on every American.
“I have reached the point where I say enough,” Obama told the leaders, according to the account. “Would Ronald Reagan be sitting here? I’ve reached my limit. This may bring my presidency down, but I will not yield on this.”
Both sides are scheduled to return to the White House Thursday. On the table are: talks on cuts in discretionary vs. mandatory spending; enforcement mechanisms to ensure the spending cuts continue beyond the first year; and whether to extend a payroll-tax break for workers and create another for employers aimed at spurring job growth and the economy.
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