WASHINGTON -- The Democratic House leader in charge of counting votes on legislation to raise the nation's debt ceiling warned on Monday that he couldn't guarantee a single vote from his party if revenues weren't part of the deal. His counterpart on the Republican side echoed that prediction if revenues were part of the deal.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told attendees at a White House gathering that a Republican-pushed plan to slash more than $1.5 trillion in federal spending -- along with reforms to the entitlement program -- would likely have to pass with only GOP support.
"In the room, the Democrats made clear they couldn't get Democratic votes for such a cut-only package," said a Democratic official with knowledge of the exchange. "And that is relevant because everyone knows that Cantor and Boehner will bleed a significant number of their caucus before we even start the process. So anything that passes requires significant Democratic votes and the thing they laid out that didn't have revenues, that was all cuts, didn't meet the test... Democrats made clear there was no Democratic support for it."
A spokesman for Hoyer confirmed that the Maryland Democrat said he could guarantee "no Democratic votes on a package without revenues."
It was a rare show of firmness from a Democratic caucus that, at one point, insisted that a debt-ceiling bill should be clean of all legislative add-ons. But the show didn't go unmatched. Before Monday's meeting, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tweeted that "there is no way the House will support a tax increase" as part of the debt reduction deal. At the meeting itself, he offered a deal that would cut $2 trillion over 10 years -- more than half of which would come from discretionary spending; $200 billion in mandatory spending and hundreds of billions from entitlement programs. Taxes remained untouched.
And so it went for a little over an hour-and-a-half, as lawmakers met for the second time in as many days without inching any closer to an agreement. A GOP aide familiar with negotiations said most of Monday's meeting centered on picking up the discussions left over from Vice President Joseph Biden's now-defunct bipartisan deficit group -- though Obama did press for lawmakers to consider a bigger deal. When the topic turned to specifics, the exchanges grew more testy, including what one GOP aide called a "notable exchange" between Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
"Entitlement cuts aren't easy for us to vote for either," Boehner told Obama, according to the aide. "Our guys aren't cheerleading about cutting entitlements."
Obama responded, "Your guys already voted for them" -- referring to House Republicans passing a budget package that revamps Medicare.
"Excuse us for trying to lead," responded Boehner, at which point the president moved onto a different topic, the aide said.
A top Democratic official briefed on the exchange acknowledged that there was, indeed, "more real disagreement coming out" on Monday than during the day prior. In addition to the Boehner-Obama dustup, Cantor proposed $350 billion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts that would, among other things, include $53 billion from "Medigap" coverage, $50 billion in increased co-payments for nursing home and homecare, $38 billion from new means testing and $16 billion in higher co-pays for lab tests. Rep. Cantor's spokeswoman Laena Fallon told HuffPost the suggestion was nothing more than what lawmakers had discussed during earlier Biden meetings, but Democrats said he was filling in the blanks. The president, regardless, dismissed the ideas as "disproportionate."
"The president stressed... [that] he did not understand how he could go to the American people consistent with his values and say it was okay to have proposals that would ask moderate-income seniors to be bearing $500 or more of additional costs when you couldn't, at the same time, ask that even the most well off Americans bear an extra five dollars in contribution to getting the deficit down," said a Democratic official briefed on the exchange.
"'No revenues' is not a serious position," said another Democratic official. "There is not a person in town not named [anti-tax zealot] Grover Norquist who will tell you that is a serious position."
How lawmakers will get over this philosophical gap is not readily apparent. The president has called them all back for a meeting on Tuesday at 3:45 p.m. The directives, however, were almost identical to what the White House had issued the night before.
"There was not movement [today]," said one Democratic official close to the talks. "But then again, the president, what he was really asking of people in the room... was to make clear we are going to come back again tomorrow and people should talk to their caucuses and among themselves about what the path to a meaningful deficit reduction plan was that can pass both houses."