Update: Democratic lawmakers have rejected an offer from Republican lawmakers.Original: Lawmakers and President Barack Obama met at the White House Saturday, once again looking to renew talks to raise the debt limit and lower the deficit after a highly public breakdown.
The tense scene in the Cabinet Room was described by the pool reporter as “a school principal’s office with a handful of sullen suspects sitting grimly downcast as the boss says: ‘OK, we’re going to sit here all day until I find out who shot that spitball.'”
But a marathon session to iron out a deal before the end of the weekend it wasn’t — lasting just 50 minutes — and all signs point to a continued stalemate after Friday’s surprising events.
An agreement that seemed within reach to Obama on Thursday ,was left on the table Friday by Speaker of the House John Boehner, spurring hours of recriminations over who killed the deal.
In an hastily called press conference, Obama angrily claimed he had been “left at the altar” by Boehner for the second time in as many weeks. Boehner responded, accusing Obama of demanding new taxes at the last minute and saying “the White House moved the goalposts.”
Both leaders made themselves vulnerable in the negotiations — Obama accepting cuts to entitlements that already were inflaming his base, and Boehner agreeing to $800 billion in revenue increases — and moved quickly to blame the other for failing to agree to a historic deficit reduction package.
Obama appeared to be holding out hope Friday night that his deal with Boehner could be resurrected in some form, with an administration official saying “this offer is still available.”
But according to congressional aides, Boehner insists negotiations resume anew in Congress on a plan with spending cuts and few, if any, revenue increases — and without Obama. Additionally, they are drafting the so-called “last ditch” plan put forth by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to allow Obama to unilaterally raise the debt limit, to be taken up if all else fails.
“Over this weekend Congress will forge a responsible path forward,” Boehner said in a statement after the Saturday meeting. “House and Senate leaders will be working to find a bipartisan solution to significantly reduce Washington spending and preserve the full faith and credit of the United States.”
Congress is “committed to working on new legislation that will prevent default while substantially reducing Washington spending,” McConnell added.
Staff say they will work through the weekend to draft the new bill — but it isn’t clear whether their effort will meet Obama’s demand that the debt limit increase will last through 2013.
“We do not know what size or shape a final package will take, but it would be terribly unfortunate if the president was willing to veto a debt limit increase simply because its timing would not be ideal for his re-election campaign,” a Boehner aide said.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded that Obama remains opposed to a short term increase in the debt limit, saying it would result in the U.S. losing its AAA rating.
“As the current situation makes clear, it would be irresponsible to put our country and economy at risk again in just a few short months with another battle over raising the debt ceiling,” he said.
Congressional leaders must reach an agreement substantially sooner than the August 2nd deadline — perhaps no later than Sunday — in order to abide by strict House and Senate rules. Boehner reportedly told members of his caucus he wants to announce a new way forward by the time the Asian financial markets open tomorrow afternoon.
With the default deadline on August 2nd rapidly approaching, all eyes are on Congress as the clock ticks down.
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