Boehner: 'Too many people' in the room in White House debt talks

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday said “there are too many people” in the White House negotiations over raising the debt limit.

“The room’s too big,” Boehner said in an interview with Fox News host Greta Van Susteren. “There are too many people in there trying to negotiate what is a very difficult, could be and will be a very difficult agreement. There are just too many people in there pouring cold water on virtually every idea that gets thrown on the table.”

President Obama has convened five straight days of meetings with eight congressional leaders from the House and Senate, along with Vice President Biden, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and several White House aides. Boehner did not say who he thought did not belong in the room, and a spokesman for the Speaker would not elaborate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said earlier Thursday that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) should be cut out of the negotiations because he has been unconstructive, but Boehner defended Cantor's role in a separate news conference.

Boehner told Van Susteren that despite the ongoing impasse between Republicans and Democrats, he was still hopeful Congress could strike “the big deal.” He said a plan floated by Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to give the president more authority to increase the debt ceiling was a “last-ditch” plan, but not his “preferred option.”

“I think we need to continue to solve our short-term and long-term debt issue. That means the big deal,” the Speaker said. “This is the moment of opportunity here.”

He added that he did not want to do “some half-hearted thing” or “some half-baked gimmick.” Boehner said passing a broad agreement would require “courage from Democrats and Republicans and real courage from the president,” who he said needed to “get serious” about cutting spending.

The interview was taped before a White House meeting on Thursday that was described as more cordial than a contentious meeting on Wednesday that ended, Republicans said, with Obama walking out in frustration after a heated exchange with Cantor.

Boehner declined to criticize the president for the move, saying he was understandably “frustrated,” like the other leaders in the room. “I think it was — it was fine,” he said. “I think he decided the meeting was over, got up and left.”

Boehner was candid about the ideological divide separating Republican and Democratic leaders, saying he was struck by the large gulf between the two sides in the negotiations.

“It’s like two groups of people from two different planets who barely understand the language of the other one,” the Speaker said. “Two remarkably different visions for what the appropriate role of government should be in our society, how our country. It’s stark, and it would shock most Americans.”