President Barack Obama stormed out of tense debt-limit talks Wednesday with his top Republican foes after declaring he was ready to stake his reelection on the outcome, a Republican aide said.
Obama needs the Republican-led House of Representatives and Democratic-held Senate to sign off on a deal to close the yawning US deficit while allowing cash-strapped Washington to borrow past an August 2 deadline.
The president, who has pressed for a comprehensive deal to last through his 2012 reelection campaign, was sending Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to brief Senate Democrats Thursday on the state of the negotiations.
Obama has called for cuts to social safety net programs dear to Democrats while pushing for tax hikes on the rich, a step rejected by Republicans who charge doing so will smother investment and crush already weak job growth.
After Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor proposed to raise the debt ceiling in more than one catch-all vote, Obama got “heated” and insisted on one comprehensive deal, said the aide, who requested anonymity.
Obama said he would not be “afraid to veto” a short-term approach or “defend it to the American people” and warned that a debt default would amount to “a tax increase on every American,” said the aide.
“Cantor rudely interrupted the president three times to advocate for short-term debt ceiling increases while the president was wrapping the meeting,” a Democratic aide told Politico. “This is just more juvenile behavior from him and Boehner needs to rein him in, and let the grown-ups get to work.”
Obama said “I have reached the point where I say enough,” and added “I’ve reached my limit. This may bring my presidency down, but I will not yield on this,” according to the Republican aide.
After leaving the debt talks, Obama said “this confirms the totality of what the American people already believe” about Washington politicians who are “too focused on positioning and political posturing,” according to a Democratic official.
“He got very agitated seemingly and said he had sat here long enough and that no other president, Ronald Reagan wouldn’t sit here like this,” Cantor told reporters after the talks collapsed. “And he said to me, ‘Eric, don’t call my bluff.’ He said, ‘I’m going to the American people with this.’”
The president’s message was “enough posturing, he said ‘enough is enough.’ He did not abruptly walk out. He was done with the meeting, everyone was done with the meeting, and he left,” said a Democratic aide.
An aide to Republican House Speaker John Boehner later signaled that the lawmaker was prepared to accept a short-term deal in which spending cuts outweigh the debt limit increase and tax hikes are off the table.
The shift to a stopgap could clear the way for a plan crafted by Republican Senate Minority Mitch McConnell, whose proposal would effectively see the debt limit rise only with Democratic votes and without guaranteeing spending cuts.
Leading Democrats and the White House greeted McConnell’s proposal carefully, but it was unclear whether the plan would rally enough Republican support to pass the divided US Congress.
McConnell warned Republicans on The Laura Ingraham Show Wednesday that allowing the U.S. to default would destroy the GOP “brand.” He said it would allow Obama to blame Republicans for the bad economy
“That is very bad positioning going into an election,” he continued. “But my first choice was to do something important for the country. My second obligation is to my party and to my conference, to prevent them from being sucked in to a horrible position politically that would allow the President to probably get re-elected because we didn’t handle this difficult situation correctly.”
“I refuse to help Barack Obama get reelected by marching Republicans into a position where we have co-ownership of a bad economy,” McConnell said.
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