Obama Warns Cantor 'Don't Call My Bluff' As Debt Talks Stall
WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers and the White House had what nearly every party is describing as a "tough" and "testy" meeting on the debt ceiling Wednesday afternoon, culminating in a stormy exchange between the president and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
It was the fifth straight day of talks, but the first in which attendees, speaking on background, were willing to admit that steps were taken backwards. According to multiple sources, disagreements surfaced early, in the middle and at the end of the nearly two-hour talks. At issue was Cantor's repeated push to do a short-term resolution and Obama's insistence that he would not accept one.
"Eric don't call my bluff. I'm going to the American people on this," the president said, according to both Cantor and another attendee. "This process is confirming what the American people think is the worst about Washington: that everyone is more interested in posturing, political positioning, and protecting their base, than in resolving real problems."
Cantor, speaking to reporters after the meeting, said that the president "abruptly" walked off after offering his scolding.
“I know why he lost his temper. He’s frustrated. We’re all frustrated," the Virginia Republican said.
Democratic officials had a different interpretation. "The meeting ended with Cantor being dressed down while sitting in silence," one official said in an email. "[The president] said Cantor could not have it both ways of insisting on dollar-for-dollar and still not being open to revenues."
Lost in the rush to frame the dramatic conclusion of Wednesday meetings was word of the actual substance of the talks. According to several attendees, negotiations stalled from the onset over the same issues that have proved irresolvable. Working off of talks that had been spearheaded by Vice President Joseph Biden, the president said he would be comfortable signing off on northward of $1.5 trillion in discretionary spending and mandatory spending cuts. With additional negotiations, he added, he could move that figure up to $1.7 trillion, and with a willingness to consider revenue increases and tax loophole closures, he added, lawmakers could get to over $2 trillion. His preference, he said, was to continue to push for the biggest package possible, so long as it was balanced.