Charles Dharapak, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Top House Republicans pressed President Barack Obama Wednesday for a detailed plan on budget cuts, and one leading lawmaker accused him of distorting a GOP Medicare proposal at the center of the partisan divide over spending.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the meeting was productive despite the absence of any signs of progress. He also made clear that Obama has no intention of letting up on his assertions that Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to send future Medicare recipients into the private insurance marketplace will "end Medicare as we know it."
"He doesn't believe that we need to end Medicare as we know it," Carney said at a White House briefing, about an hour after the East Room meeting between Obama and House Republicans.
The White House session 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.
Afterward, dozens of rank-and-file GOP lawmakers streamed out of the front door of the White House and into a caravan of blue buses waiting for them on Pennsylvania Avenue, while members of the GOP leadership stopped on the driveway to speak to reporters and camera crews awaiting them in under a steaming sun.
"Any day Republicans and Democrats are actually having a dialogue, this is a good thing, said Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas.
Yet it was hard to see any concrete progress from a meeting that, based on descriptions by both sides, amounted to a face-to-face recitation of each side's positions, but no breakthrough on how to reach a debt-reduction deal. The talks came as an Aug. 2 deadline approaches for the federal government to raise the debt limit or go into unprecedented default.
"Unfortunately what we did not hear from the president is a specific plan of his to deal with the debt crisis," Hensarling said. Instead, according to a GOP official briefed on the meeting, Obama noted that he's deputized Vice President Joe Biden to lead talks on deficit reduction.
"This is a large meeting and this is not the forum for specific advances in the negotiations. ... And yet it was productive," Carney said.
"I think it helps in that it allows everyone in the room to look each other in the eye."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, "I told the president, one more time, this is the moment. This is the window of opportunity where we can deal with this on our terms. We can work together and solve this problem. We know what the problems are. Let's not kick the can down the road one more time."
According to a 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.
Ryan, who heads the House Budget Committee., had attended the speech only to hear Obama excoriate his Medicare proposal. On Wednesday the Wisconsin congressman 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, according to the GOP official.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting, said Ryan told the president that leaders have to lead and Obama hadn't shown leadership.
Pressed on that after the meeting Ryan said: "I just said we 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."
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