Saturday morning at the White House: Debt talks continue

Amanda Carey Contributor
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President Obama held what looked like a tense meeting with Congressional leaders Saturday morning, just hours after negotiations with Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner broke down Friday night. While details from the meeting have yet to emerge, the White House did release a statement saying Congressional leaders returned to Capitol Hill to discuss potential deals with lawmakers, and “conversations will continue throughout the day.”

In Saturday’s meeting, the President also restated his opposition to a deal that would only extend the debt limit for a short time, saying it would do nothing to prevent a downgrade in the country’s credit rating.

“As the current situation makes clear, it would be irresponsible to put our country and economy at risk again in just a few short months with another battle over raising the debt ceiling,” read a White House statement issued early Saturday afternoon. “Congress should refrain from playing reckless political games with our economy. Instead, it should be responsible and do its job, avoiding default and cutting the deficit.”

Obama and Boehner were joined in the Cabinet room by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. According to a White House official, the meeting lasted about 50 minutes.

Talks broke down Friday night when Boehner called Obama to tell him he was walking away from a debt deal. The Speaker later said the president “moved the goalposts” at the last minute in an attempt to change already agreed-upon revenue figures.

“Dealing with the White House is like dealing with a bowl of Jell-O,” Boehner added. (Cantor: Vote on balanced budget amendment ‘likely’ next week)

The White House, on the other hand, accused Boehner of rigidly refusing to compromise on tax increases and walking out when a deal was very near. In a hastily arranged press conference shortly after Boehner phoned with the bad news Friday night, Obama said he had offered the Speaker an “extraordinarily fair deal.”

“I have gone out of my way to make compromises,” Obama said.

Friday’s walkout was just the latest in a series of failed attempts to reach agreement on the debt limit. Republican Senator Tom Coburn walked out of the Gang of Six debt talks in May, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor quit debt talks with Vice President Biden in June. Earlier this month, Obama himself abruptly walked out of a negotiating session at the White House.

As for what happens next, Boehner has already said he intends to get some kind of legislation to the House floor by Wednesday. Because of the “72 hour rule,” this legislation would need to be introduced by early Monday. Presuming it passes, the Senate would then have just a few days to consider and approve the result before sending it to the President, in order to avert a U.S. debt default in nine days.

UPDATE: In a call with the Republican members of the House Saturday afternoon, Boehner said he intends to reveal a debt plan before Asian markets open on Sunday at 4 p.m. The Speaker reportedly gave no details of his plan, though he indicated he is open to a short-term deal. He also reiterated it would be a byproduct of talks only with Congressional leadership – not the White House.

Details of Boehner’s call given to The Daily Caller from a senior GOP staffer reveal that the Speaker told Republicans he is aiming for a deficit reduction package that contains the framework of the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act that died in the Senate Friday.

He also discussed the fall-out Friday night, saying he walked away from debt talks with Obama because the President changed his mind about pursuing tax hikes that yielded 50 percent more revenue than they had previously negotiated. Boehner then told members he is still not close to a final deal, but it needs to be done by 2 p.m. on Sunday.