WASHINGTON -- A tense White House meeting on the expiring debt limit broke up after less than an hour today, with the president and leaders of Congress agreeing only that it was urgent to find a path forward this weekend, a source familiar with the meeting said.
Staffers were set to work through the weekend, in hopes of crafting a compromise that could avert the United States beginning to default on its debt starting Aug. 2.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement soon after the session that Obama wanted assurances that Congress would not let the nation become delinquent.
"The president wanted to know that there was a plan for preventing national default," McConnell said. "The bipartisan leadership in Congress is committed to working on new legislation that will prevent default while substantially reducing Washington spending."
The remarks hinted that leaders may be narrowing in on the plan McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had been working on, which would hand authority to the president to raise the debt ceiling in three stages, paired with spending cuts totaling about $1.5 trillion.
One obstacle to following that path is the president's desire for a larger package -- a so-called grand bargain -- that would at least last through the election season. Another is that many House Republicans do not like the McConnell plan.
Obama might have to back down, and enough Tea Party Republicans would have to conclude that default is worse than a smaller, though still large, cut.
The print pool report from the start of Saturday's meeting suggested it began extremely tense, but TV reporters who lingered just a little longer said President Obama broke the ice with a joke about golf.
"I think everybody agrees it's too hot to play golf today," Obama told House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), referring to their recent golf summit, which also did not lead to a breakthrough on debt negotiations.