Image: Republican Legislators Speak After Meeting With Obama At The White House
Alex Wong  /  Getty Images
From left to right: U.S. House Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), House Republican Conference Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) walk toward the microphones after a meeting with President Barack Obama on Wednesday.
updated 6/2/2011 8:51:09 AM ET 2011-06-02T12:51:09

Face to face at the White House, GOP leaders complained to President Barack Obama on Wednesday that he had not produced a detailed plan of spending cuts and accused him of playing politics over Medicare as the nation careens toward a debt crisis.

House Speaker John Boehner said he was ready to negotiate personally with Obama if that would hurry things along.

The White House said Obama had in fact led on the issue and made clear that he had no intention of dropping what Democrats believe is a winning political issue: accusing the GOP of trying to destroy the popular health care program for seniors.

"He doesn't believe that we need to end Medicare as we know it," said press secretary Jay Carney.

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Republicans said their plan would save Medicare, not end it, and they in turn accused Obama of failing to present any proposals to preserve Medicare or drive down deficits at all.

"Unfortunately what we did not hear from the president is a specific plan," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, as Republicans commented outside the White House.

Later, Boehner told reporters at the Capitol he hoped deficit-reduction talks could be wrapped up within a month and "the president agreed."

Story: Biden: Revenues needed as part of debt limit bill

Aug. 2 deadline
Boehner said private talks being led by Vice President Joe Biden were making "some marginal progress. But at the rate that they're going we'll be right up against the deadline." That was a reference to an Aug. 2 deadline to raise the government's borrowing limit or risk an unprecedented credit default that the White House and even many Republicans say would be disastrous for the U.S. economy.

Asked what else could be done, Boehner said, "The president could engage himself. I'm willing. I'm ready. It's time to have a conversation. It's time to play large ball, not small ball."

The White House said Obama had directed Biden to lead the talks.

"Both parties acknowledge that the group is making progress and talks are productive, and the president is closely monitoring and is being regularly briefed by the vice president and staff on the progress," White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said in response to Boehner.

Republicans are refusing to approve the debt-limit increase without ordering spending cuts topping a trillion dollars at the same time. The White House is insisting that in addition to spending restraint the deficit trimming must include tax increases that Republicans say are off the table.

Obama's meeting with the huge assembly of House Republicans yielded no concrete progress, although both sides said it was productive simply in that both sides of a deeply divided government were able to have a candid discussion.

But in the heat of early June, August looked a long way away Wednesday and it seemed clear that plenty of political posturing lay ahead before deadline pressure would induce the parties to step up with real talks.

Actual negotiations are being led in private by Biden involving a much smaller group of lawmakers who have recently expressed confidence they'll be able to identify at least $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade. Negotiators are considering reductions in student loan subsidies, farm payments and support for federal workers' pensions. The Biden group next meets June 9.

Republicans decry 'Mediscare' tactics
At the White House Wednesday, both sides got a chance to recite now familiar political points. A key topic was Medicare, the massive government health insurance program for Americans 65 and older.

A plan put forward by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan would not affect people over age 55, but future Medicare beneficiaries would instead be given government subsidies to purchase private health insurance. Independent analysts have concluded beneficiaries would end up paying more.

Democrats have turned that into a political weapon with what Republicans are decrying as "Mediscare" tactics, using it as the basis of attack ads against the GOP. A special election in New York last week turned into a referendum on Medicare, and the result was a Democratic victory in a Republican-heavy New York district. New Rep. Kathy Hochul was sworn in Wednesday.

That's led to unease among Republicans who voted for the plan, and elation among Democrats who intend to exploit the issue for all its worth as the 2012 presidential election approaches.

Ryan, R-Wis., said he urged Obama Wednesday to dial back the politics in the interest of finding the bipartisan deal on deficit reduction the president says he desires.

"We simply described to him precisely what it is we've been proposing, so that he hears from us how our proposal works, so that in the future, he won't mischaracterize it," Ryan told reporters after the 75-minute session with Obama in the East Room.

Ryan said he told Obama: "We got to get our debt under control, and if we try to demagogue each other's attempts to do that, then we're not applying the kind of political leadership we need."

The president brushed off allegations of demagoguery by reminding the Republicans he was the guy who "wasn't born in the U.S.," according to sources familiar with the talks who spoke anonymously to describe them. That was a reference to GOP questioning of his background.

Story: Cantor: Obama, not Biden, must seal debt deal

Republican officials said Boehner and other leaders all pressed Obama on Medicare, contending he had not put forward any plan to save it from going bankrupt.

Carney said that Obama had already offered an extensive deficit-cutting plan, referring to an April proposal from Obama to cut an overall $4 trillion over 12 years through a combination of spending cuts, tax increases and other measures.

Included in that is $480 billion from Medicare and Medicaid. Obama's plan is short on details but would aim to limit payments for prescription drugs and empower an independent board to recommend policies to keep Medicare expenditures down.

Meanwhile, Carney refused to disavow liberal attack ads including one showing a Ryan look-alike shoving a senior in a wheelchair off a cliff.

"I don't know what ads he may or may not have seen," Carney said of the president. "What I will say is that the substantive differences over Medicare are real."

Symbolic Tuesday vote
The session between Obama and 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 by $2.4 trillion. The proposal, intended to prove that a bill to increase the borrowing limit with no spending cuts is dead on arrival, failed badly Tuesday on a 318-97 vote.

Democrats said the vote was aimed 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.

Biden is leading talks on reaching spending cuts alongside the debt measure in advance of the August deadline set by the Treasury Department.

If no action is taken by then, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner 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.

In an update on the debt status, the Treasury Department said Wednesday that recent spending and tax receipts had made no change in its previous estimate that the government will run out of maneuvering room to avoid an unprecedented default on the national debt on Aug. 2.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: House GOP seeks big cuts at WH meeting

  1. Closed captioning of: House GOP seeks big cuts at WH meeting

    >>> right now house republicans are headed down to the white house . a short while ago i spoke with one of the more high-profile tea-party backed republicans, jason chaffetz , of utah and asked him what he expects to hear from the president.

    >> i appreciate the president having this meeting. the people want us to work in a bipartisan way. i want to know what he's going to do to help balance the budget. the house republicans put together a budget that balances and pays off the debt. how does he think he's going to balance the budget? what does he want to do in order to get there?

    >> i want to talk about the debt ceiling vote yesterday, very muchle symbolic. in fact, so symbolic there are reports republicans quietly assured people, don't pay attention , don't overreact, this is simply a little bit of a sideshow, a little bit of theater. how do you feel about behind-the-scenes chatter like that going on?

    >> well, i hope the bond markets actually look at this very favorably. i think one of the legitimate questions around the fwloglobe is, is the united states actually going to pay off its debt? when you say broad bipartisan support saying no, we're actually going to tie it to some spending cuts, i in the -- if i was in the bond market , i would think that would be a very favorable reaction. i think these people are very savvy. they understand we have until august in order to come up with something. and we've got to work together on both sides of the aisle to try to make that happen.

    >> you just drew the line in august. you're comfortable if we get into a situation just like the budget showdown where we almost shut down literally an hour before the shutdown deal was had. you're comfortable if that's the way it happens going back to that august 2nd ?

    >> no, chuck. what i'm saying is between now and august we've got to come up with something. i'd like to get it done next week. so i think there are a number of different options from the republican point of view. i'd like to hear what the president wants to see done and where he thinks those cuts should be.

    >> one scenario i had outlined to me was this. the deal will be sort of agreed to in that there will be an agreement that yes, there has to be triggers to try to get to some sort of long term where you're dealing with trillions. but what won't come to an agreement, you know, if they'll put a trigger in, but what won't be agreed upon is whether it's fully only on spending that gets cut or whether there would be tax increases tied to it. and i had somebody say, that's what the 2012 election will be about. are you comfortable with a deal that says, okay, we're agreeing that there's going to be triggers. we just don't know if it's going to be a mix of spending cuts and tax hikes or just spending cuts. we'll let november 2012 decide.

    >> well, the problem is, it's always an election year in washington, d.c. that's the problem. it's perpetually an election year. we don't have until the 2012 election. we have to deal with it right now. and i got elected and others got elected to deal with it right now. there are those of us who will hold the line and say no, we're not going to keep punting this down the road because it's an election year.

    >> what's more important to you? if you get the president to say, congressman, you guys are right, you've got to do this, we're going to cut $4 trillion over the next ten years. we're going to get this thing into balance, you know, however long it takes. a reasonable amount of time. but it's got to include some tax increases. a 3-1 ratio, spending cuts to tax increases. would you support something like that?

    >> no, not necessarily. i mean, i just believe we're borrowing, taxing and spending too much money. 25 cents out of every dollar spent in this country is spent by the federal government . that's way too much. if the president thinks he needs to have a mix of tax increases, then let's have that debate. and let's have that discussion. but there are those of us very conservative in our approach just saying we're already taxing too much right now. but we also have said from the house, i'm on the budget committee , we've got to broaden the base, lower the rates, get rid of some of those exemption. i think we can find bipartisan support on that.

    >> quick political question . are you satisfied that senator orrin hatch over the last couple of years has -- is now somebody you could support as a conservative senator for the next six years?

    >> no, i don't. i don't. that's why i'm considering running against him.

    >> so you don't believe any of his moves have done anything to make you feel better?

    >> hey, look. where he's made the right votes, i will applaud him and pat him on the back. but i am concerned that over the course of time, he's supported a number of things i just couldn't support. look, i want him to be as conservative. he's important to our state right now. he's been a great public servant, but the election in 2012 will also be about the future. and 42 years of continuous service and some of the votes he's placed in the past, you know, that's causing me to think maybe that's something i should go run for.

    >> last time you said you were a definite maybe. it sounds like you're more than just a definite maybe. sounds like you're leaning yes.

    >> i'm still in the definite maybe category, but i appreciate you asking.

    >> well, you were pretty animated there. congressman jason chaffetz , thanks for joining us and good luck with the meeting with the president today.


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