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On Wednesday afternoon, debt ceiling talks between leaders of Congress and the President broke down, causing frustration and fear to reverberate throughout the country. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) repeatedly pushed President Obama to accept a temporary resolution to the debt ceiling according to multiple sources that were present at the meeting.
“Eric don’t call my bluff. I’m going to the American people on this,” the president said, according to both Cantor and another attendee. “This process is confirming what the American people think is the worst about Washington: that everyone is more interested in posturing, political positioning, and protecting their base, than in resolving real problems.”
Cantor, speaking to reporters after the meeting, said that the president “abruptly” walked off after offering his scolding. “I know why he lost his temper. He’s frustrated. We’re all frustrated,” the Virginia Republican said.
Democratic officials report things went a little differently than Cantor is reporting. “The meeting ended with Cantor being dressed down while sitting in silence,” one official said in an email. “[The president] said Cantor could not have it both ways of insisting on dollar-for-dollar and still not being open to revenues.”
The president said he would be willing to sign off on over $1.5 trillion in discretionary spending and mandatory spending cuts. With additional negotiations, he added, he could move that figure up to $1.7 trillion, and with a willingness to consider revenue increases and tax loophole closures, he added, lawmakers could get to over $2 trillion. His preference, he said, was to continue to push for the biggest package possible, so long as it was balanced. Apparently this concession was not large enough for Cantor.
Cantor, who has taken over as the chief Republican negotiator from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), responded by insisting that revenues were off the table. Without steeper cuts, he stated that the votes didn’t exist except to pass a smaller short-term resolution.
“It is easy to get to a higher number when you are not asking anything difficult from yourself,” Obama retorted. Cantor continued to press negotiators to cut $2.5 trillion. The president pointed out that Cantor was just looking for a way to say, “No.”
“Talk about arbitrary,” he said of Cantor’s figure, according to a Democratic attendee. “I am totally willing to do the hard stuff to get well above what you need and you won’t do it because you can’t put one penny of revenue on the table.”
“At least Mitch McConnell, to his credit, was willing to work for a solution,” the president added, acknowledging the proposal by the Senate Minority Leader to, essentially, give him the authority to lift the debt ceiling without passing commensurate cuts.
“I have reached the point where I say enough,” Obama concluded, according to Reuters. “Would Ronald Reagan be sitting here? I’ve reached my limit. This may bring my presidency down, but I will not yield on this.”