Washington 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.
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.”
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.