WASHINGTON — House Democrats met with President Barack Obama for talks on cutting the U.S. deficit Thursday as the White House pushed back against calls from Republicans for Obama to show more leadership and offer more specifics on the issue.
“We are at a point now where we don’t need new plans,” said presidential spokesman Jay Carney, arguing that Obama has already offered one. “We need to find common ground around the shared goal of significant deficit reduction.”
Carney also shrugged off House leader John Boehner’s offer to negotiate directly with the president to speed things along. Boehner said Wednesday that negotiations being led by Vice President Joe Biden are not making fast enough progress and said he was willing to get involved directly with Obama.
“The vehicle for these negotiations is the talks led by the vice president. And we feel that those talks have been productive,” Carney said. He said Obama “may or may not” talk with Boehner as the Biden negotiations proceed.
The Biden talks with a small group of lawmakers from both parties are aimed at identifying spending cuts in the trillions of dollars that Republicans are demanding as the price for their vote to raise the government’s borrowing limit. If the limit is not raised by Aug. 2, the Treasury department is predicting unprecedented default on U.S. obligations and an ensuing economic calamity.
But the Biden group does not meet again until June 9. Boehner’s office Thursday pointed to a new credit warning from Moody’s Investor Service to underscore the urgency of swift action. Moody’s said the U.S. government could lose its sterling credit rating if Congress and the Obama administration don’t make progress soon on an agreement to raise the borrowing limit.
The U.S. government hit its $14.3 trillion borrowing limit on May 16 and the Treasury is using a series of extraordinary maneuvers to meet financial obligations. The administration hasn’t said how large an increase in the debt limit it will seek though the last one was around $2 trillion for a year.
Republicans say any increase in the debt limit must be matched by spending cuts of the same magnitude, while the Obama administration argues that the debt limit must be increased regardless.
Obama’s plan for reducing the deficit by $4 trillion over 12 years relies half on spending cuts but also eliminates tax breaks and loopholes, whereas Republicans say tax increases are off the table and also contend Obama’s plan lacks specifics. The argument has been particularly fierce around Medicare, the giant health insurance program for Americans 65 and older. Democrats are gaining politically from public opposition to a Republican proposal to send future beneficiaries shopping for health insurance in the private market.
Republicans contend that they at least have a plan for Medicare. Republicans dismiss as insufficient Obama’s proposals aimed at paring back the program, which include empowering an independent board to recommend policies to reduce the growth of Medicare spending.