Obama, Boehner Held Secret Debt Ceiling Meeting At White House
WASHINGTON (AP/The Huffington Post) -- Efforts to find a bipartisan agreement blending huge budget cuts with a must-pass measure to increase how much the government can borrow have entered a new phase after Republican negotiators pulled out of talks led by Vice President Joe Biden.
The exit of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor from the talks on Thursday means the most difficult decisions have been kicked upstairs to GOP House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and President Barack Obama. The Biden-led group had made solid progress in weeks of negotiations but was at an impasse over taxes.
Cantor, R-Va., said that the Republican-dominated House simply won't support tax increases and that it's time for Obama to weigh in directly because Biden and Democrats were insisting on tax increases. Democrats said it's only fair to blend in additional revenues from closing tax breaks to balance trillions of dollars in spending cuts.
It had long been assumed that the Biden group would set the stage for more decisive talks involving Obama and Boehner. As a result, Cantor's move was interpreted as trying to jump-start the talks rather than blow them up - a view shared by Cantor himself.
"The purpose here is to alter the dynamic," Cantor said.
In fact, Cantor's withdrawal came after Boehner had already made a trek to the White House - in a secret meeting Wednesday night that followed up on a golf outing over the weekend.
According to The Hill newspaper, Cantor's walkout had been planned for weeks:
The timing of Cantor's exit from the talks has been discussed for weeks, and senior House Republicans cast it as a natural progression for the negotiations.
"There have been discussions about when these talks need to end and when the Speaker and the president need to get in the game," one GOP aide explained.
For his part, Cantor didn't inform Boehner of his decision to leave the talks until Thursday, shortly before the news broke, said a GOP official familiar with the situation. The official required anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
The White House sought to put a positive spin on developments.
"As all of us at the table said at the outset, the goal of these talks was to report our findings back to our respective leaders," Biden said in a statement. "The next phase is in the hands of those leaders, who need to determine the scope of an agreement that can tackle the problem and attract bipartisan support. For now the talks are in abeyance as we await that guidance."
The Senate's Republican negotiator, Jon Kyl of Arizona, also exited the talks.
For his part, Cantor said the secretive Biden-led talks had "established a blueprint" for agreement on significant cuts in spending.
One of the byproducts of Cantor's departure was to provide an opportunity for partisans on all sides to make statements at odds with the positions they may have to take to achieve a deal. Democrats insist that at least some new revenues are needed - both to soften spending cuts and to line up the Democratic votes needed to pass the measure.
"It will take Democratic votes to pass any debt-ceiling agreement," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "As a result, certain things are going to have to be true. We cannot make cuts to Medicare benefits. We have to allow for revenues like wasteful subsidies for ethanol and oil companies. And we have to do something on jobs."
"President Obama needs to decide between his goal of higher taxes or a bipartisan plan to address our deficit," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "He can't have both."
As for Democratic demands for new deficit-financed "jobs" initiatives, McConnell scoffed: "What planet are they on?"
Cantor said that plenty of progress has been made in identifying trillions of dollars in potential spending cuts to accompany legislation to raise the $14.3 trillion cap on the government's ability to borrow money. Passage of the legislation this summer is necessary to meet the government's obligations to holders of U.S. Treasurys. The alternative is a market-shaking, first-ever default on U.S. obligations.