House Republicans Voice Frustration Over Debt During Meeting With Obama
House Republicans gave President Obama an earful Wednesday over their concerns regarding unemployment, the national debt and government regulation, a day after the House's decisive vote against raising the debt ceiling.
Their White House meeting marked the latest development in budget negotiations that for months have failed to yield a compromise. Without a deal to cut spending, House Republicans say they cannot approve an increase in the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.
Emerging from the meeting, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, described the discussion Wednesday as "frank" and "very productive."
But there was no suggestion the meeting had produced any concrete progress. Others expressed concern that the White House was not giving them a solid proposal and accused the president of playing politics.
"Unfortunately, what we did not hear from the president is a specific plan of his to deal with the debt crisis," Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said.
Sources told Fox News that Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., took time during the meeting to defend his Medicare proposal, which has been hammered by Democratic political leaders. He suggested the president was egging on Democrats to attack the plan, and he accused Obama of failing to show leadership, according to sources.
The sources said Ryan got a standing ovation for his remarks during the meeting. Speaking to reporters, Ryan said lawmakers should not "demagogue" the issue. "We've got to deal with this," he said.
Republican sources in the room also said Boehner and other Republicans pushed Obama on how he planned to mitigate the debt crisis. They urged him to come to the table with a concrete proposal, rather than a speech. The sources said Obama deferred to talks being led by Vice President Biden, pointing to other reforms he's put forward through the federal health care overhaul. GOP leaders said those changes are not sufficient.
Asked about the disagreements, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the large meeting -- with most House Republicans in attendance -- "was not the forum for specific advances in the negotiations." He said the next round of the Biden-led talks, with a smaller bipartisan group, would be held June 9. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is also expected to meet with House freshmen Thursday on Capitol Hill.
Still, Carney said Obama found Wednesday's meeting "productive."
"Obviously there are long-term disagreements. ... All of those disagreements will not be resolved in the next several weeks," Carney said. "But there is common ground and more common ground can be found to significantly reduce our deficits."
On the evening before the meeting, a proposal to raise the nation's debt ceiling by another $2.4 trillion failed by a wide margin. The vote was lopsided, with just 97 lawmakers in favor of the measure and 318 against. Eighty-two Democrats joined Republicans in opposing the increase.
House Republican leaders claimed the vote was an explicit endorsement of their call to extract significant spending cuts before increasing the government's borrowing limit.
Ryan said the vote should prove to the president that his call to cleave the debt limit vote from spending cuts "won't fly" in the House.
"We couldn't pass it even if we wanted to. You've got to cut spending," Ryan told Fox News.
Boehner and others have called for spending cuts exceeding the amount by which the debt cap would be increased -- the speaker on Wednesday released a statement from 150 economists backing that demand.
Few details, though, have emerged from negotiations among congressional leaders and Biden, though Biden said recently the negotiators had made progress. He expressed confidence they would be able to agree on specific cuts in excess of $1 trillion over the next decade, and then look to procedural mechanisms known as "triggers" to force further automatic deficit cuts adding up to another $3 trillion or so.
At least one Republican declared he would be sitting out the meeting with Obama. Freshman Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La., said: "I don't intend to spend my morning being lectured to by a president whose failed policies have put our children and grandchildren in a huge burden of debt."
House Democrats, meanwhile, accused the GOP of political demagoguery with the failed debt ceiling vote, while the Obama administration maneuvered to avoid taking sides.
Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., accused Republicans of a "ploy so egregious that (they) have had to spend the last week pleading with Wall Street not to take it seriously and risk our economic recovery."
He and other Democrats added that Republicans were attempting to draw attention away from their controversial plan to turn Medicare into a program in which seniors purchase subsidized private insurance coverage.
The proceedings occurred roughly two months before the date Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has said the debt limit must be raised. If no action is taken by Aug. 2, he has warned, the government could default on its obligations and risk turmoil that might plunge the nation into another recession or even an economic depression.
Republicans signaled in advance that the debt limit vote did not portend a final refusal to grant an increase.
But Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking Democrat, accused the GOP of staging a "demagogic vote" at a time lawmakers should work together to avoid a financial default.
For its part, the administration appeared eager to avoid criticizing Republicans.
"It's fine, it's fine," Carney said Tuesday when asked about the Republican decision to tie spending cuts with more borrowing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.