At a closed-door conference meeting this morning, Speaker John Boehner told House Republicans that GOP leaders and the White House remain poles apart as the debt-ceiling deadline looms. “It’s like we are leaders from two different planets who don’t understand each other,” he said, to chuckles.
Boehner, according to sources who were inside of the room, emphasized that moving forward, “We have to make tough decisions to save our country, so get ready to do it.” Others in the GOP leadership, such as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, reiterated that message, telling members that as the debt-limit impasse continues, Republicans will hustle next week to pass “cut, cap, and balance,” a fiscal-reform package sponsored by the Republican Study Committee (RSC), a leading conservative caucus.
Under the “cut, cap, and balance” legislation, Congress would agree to increase the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion (the amount requested by President Obama to get him through the 2012 election), but only if a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution were approved by two-thirds majorities in both houses and sent to the states for ratification. In addition, the plan calls for significant spending cuts to next year’s budget — more than $100 billion — and a firm cap on federal spending at 18.5 percent of GDP.
Cantor also told the conference about his exchange with President Obama on Wednesday, when the president became agitated about Cantor’s pushing for a short-term extension, one that would be laden with spending cuts. Cantor told Republicans that Obama’s entire approach was political, and that they should read little more into the heated press reports. He said that Obama’s position appears to be based upon his refusal to agree to anything that does not go through the end of next year’s presidential campaign.
In terms of floor strategy, House GOP leaders said the RSC plan will probably come first; then, pending passage, Republicans will move to consider a related balanced-budget amendment — one that they hope will attract Democrats, whose votes would be needed to pass the amendment should “cut, cap, and balance” find itself curbed in the Senate, where Democrats still hold control.
Speaking at a press conference after the meeting, Boehner announced as much, telling reporters that “time and again Republicans have offered serious proposals to cut spending and address these issues, and I think it’s time for the Democrats to get serious as well.” Looking ahead, he said that he does not want to “preclude any chance of coming to an agreement,” but with Democrats “unwilling to put a real plan on the table,” he was ready to take action unilaterally.
Leaving the meeting, House Republicans were mostly calm and supportive of their leadership, happily munching bagels and sipping coffee. The conference, many said, was in relatively good spirits, hopeful that Boehner and Cantor would be able to craft a favorable agreement. A senior House GOP aide tells us that the leaders went into the meeting with an open mind, looking both to recap the negotiations and to rally members to get informed and be enthusiastic for next week’s debate, when the clamor for a deal will reach a fever pitch in the mainstream press.
“There were more calls for unity, smiles, but there was not a push for everyone to start getting behind something, to get 218 votes together,” one Republican recounted to us as he strolled back to his office. “All of the whip stuff will happen later. This was about coming together, seeing where we are, and planning for next week. The leaders spoke; Jim Jordan [RSC chairman] spoke; it was pretty low-key.”
Still, a couple of members told us that some tension flared up at the beginning of the meeting when Jerome Powell, who was a Treasury Department official in the George H. W. Bush administration, made a presentation about the consequences of failing to extend the debt ceiling past August 2. “It is my responsibility, as conference chairman to arm them with the best facts,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas) as he walked in.