House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) told reporters outside the House chamber that Wednesday afternoon’s meeting at the White House ended with President Obama “abruptly walking out” of the room. Cantor expressed a growing frustration over the rapidly dwindling spending cuts believed to have been agreed to in the Biden negotiations, having gone from about $2 trillion in savings to less than $1.4 trillion over the course of several days. As Rich mentioned, much of the discrepancy is the result of Democrats’ taking cuts to mandatory programs and entitlements off the table, and insisting on additional spending. Cantor said this was likely the result of significant disagreement between congressional Democrats and the president.
The Majority Leader recounted that toward the end of the discussions President Obama instructed negotiators to “get in the mode” because a final decision would have to be made by Friday. Cantor said he told the president that the two sides remain so far apart at this point that he doubted they could get to $2.5 trillion in cuts (to match the debt increase requested by the administration, enough to get through the 2012 election) given the time available. President Obama has said he will not sign any increase to the debt ceiling less than that amount, and Cantor had previously insisted that the House would vote no more than one time to increase the debt limit. Cantor said he was willing to abandon his position in order to allow some kind of short-term measure to increase the debt limit and reassure credit markets while negotiations continue, and asked the president if he would be willing to consider this option.
At this point, Cantor explained, the president became “very agitated” and said he had “sat here long enough,” that “Ronald Reagan wouldn’t sit here like this” and “something’s got to give.” Obama then told Republicans they either needed to compromise on their insistence on a dollar for dollar ratio of spending cuts to debt increase or agree to a “grand bargain” including massive tax increases. Before walking out of the room, Cantor said, the president told him: “Eric, don’t call my bluff. I’m going to the American people with this.” He then “shoved back” and said “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Negotiators will, presumably, meet again at the White House on Thursday.
UPDATE: Democrats weigh in with their side of the story:
Democrats offered a different characterization of the meeting and that exchange, though House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told The Hill that the “gravity of the challenge” that confronts negotiators “was weighing certainly on the president.”
In a brief interview, Pelosi said she had never see a president more gracious than Obama, who she described as trying to end a meeting he had hosted.
“He stayed for two and a half hours and listened to what members had to say. It was his meeting and the meeting had come to an end,” she said.
“The president could not have been more gracious. I have never seen a president spend so much time with the leadership of Congress day in and day out, respectful of their concerns,” Pelosi added.
House and Senate Democrats have ripped Cantor for days, and a House Democratic leadership aide described the majority leader’s account of Wednesday’s meeting as “Cantor’s Gingrich back-of-the-plane moment” – referencing a moment in 1995 when then Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) complained about being seated near the back of Air Force One and was quickly depicted in the media as a cry-baby.
“Obama was concluding the meeting giving the closing remarks and talking about meeting tomorrow, Cantor interrupted him and raised for the third time doing a short-term, and Obama shut him down,” the aide said. “Cantor was playing the role he’s been playing throughout this whole thing – being not productive.”
Hoyer echoed Pelosi in say Obama had tried to be flexible, but said there was “great difficulty” in trying to find a compromise.
“We had a pretty fulsome discussion on the specifics that the White House was prepared to agree to, or at least that they thought were options that were viable,” Hoyer said in an interview shortly following the meeting at the White House.