WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers pressed President Barack Obama Wednesday for a detailed plan on spending cuts, with one leading House member accusing him of thinking about his re-election instead of how to solve problems, according to a Republican briefed on the talks.
The meeting at the White House came as the GOP sought to build pressure on Obama for trillions in spending cuts in exchange for any increase in the government's ability to borrow. The official offered the details on condition of anonymity to discuss the private session.
After the meeting between GOP House members and Obama, Republican leaders emerged and mostly repeated talking points designed to gain political advantage in the partisan tussle over spending policy. There was no suggestion that the meeting had produced any concrete progress ahead of an Aug. 2 deadline for the federal government to raise the federal debt limit or go into unprecedented default.
"If we're going to raise the debt limit, the spending cuts should exceed the increase in the debt limit, otherwise it will serve to cost us jobs in our country," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters outside the White House. "It's not what the American people want."
According to the GOP official briefed on the meeting, Boehner and other leaders told Obama that he hadn't put a specific plan for spending cuts on the table. They brought up a speech he gave at George Washington University in April in which he called for deficit reduction totaling $4 trillion through spending cuts, tax increases and other measures. The Republicans said a speech isn't a plan.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., had attended the speech only to hear Obama excoriate Ryan's proposal to have future Medicare beneficiaries shop for insurance in the private market. On Wednesday Ryan told the president he'd viewed that as a sign that Obama was thinking about the 2012 elections and wanted fellow Democrats to turn up the political heat, the official said.
"I just said we've got to take on this debt and if we demagogue each other at the leadership level then we're never gonna take on our debt," Ryan told reporters after the meeting.
The White House had no immediate reaction to the GOP accounts.
Ahead of Wednesday's meeting, Boehner released a statement signed by more than 150 economists backing his position on coupling spending cuts with any debt limit increase.
"Increasing the debt ceiling without significant spending cuts and budget reforms will send a message to American job creators that we still are not serious about ending Washington's spending addiction," the Ohio Republican said in the statement.
The session between Obama and dozens of House Republicans came on the heels of a symbolic and lopsided vote the day before against a GOP proposal to raise the cap on the debt limit by $2.4 trillion. The proposal, intended to prove that a bill to increase the borrowing cap with no spending cuts is dead on arrival, failed badly Tuesday on a 318-97 vote.
Democrats said the lopsided tally was aimed more at giving tea party-backed Republicans an opportunity to broadcast a "nay" vote against the administration's position that any increase in U.S. borrowing authority should be done as a stand-alone measure uncomplicated by difficult spending cuts to programs like Medicare. A more painful vote to raise the debt ceiling looms for Republicans this summer.
In fact, Vice President Joe Biden is leading talks on attaching spending cuts to the debt measure in advance of an Aug. 2 deadline set by the Treasury Department.
Wednesday's meeting seemed more of a listening session than earnest negotiations between Obama and the staunch conservatives who have taken back the House.
In Tuesday's vote, House Democrats accused the GOP of political demagoguery, while the Obama administration maneuvered to avoid taking sides — or giving offense to majority Republicans.
The House floor debate was brief, occasionally impassioned and set a standard of sorts for public theater, particularly at a time when private negotiations continue among the administration and key lawmakers on the deficit cuts Republicans have demanded.
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Roughly two months remain before the date Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has said the debt limit must be raised. If no action is taken by Aug. 2, he has warned, the government could default on its obligations and risk turmoil that might plunge the nation into another recession or even an economic depression.
The government already has reached the limit of its borrowing authority, $14.3 trillion, and the Treasury is using a series of extraordinary maneuvers to meet financial obligations.
By no longer making investments in two big pension funds for federal workers and beginning to withdraw current investments, for example, the Treasury created $214 billion in additional borrowing headroom.