By Bob Cusack, Russell Berman and Molly K. Hooper - 06/02/11 12:12 PM EDT
House Democrats head to the White House on Thursday afternoon as Washington's high-wire talks on raising the nation's debt ceiling move into their second day.
President Obama's meeting with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the rest of her caucus comes a day after Republicans, at a similar meeting, confronted the president and accused him of a lack of leadership on fiscal issues.
Republicans demand big spending cuts in exchange for a higher debt ceiling. But Democrats believe they have a winning election issue in attacking Medicare reforms contained in the House-passed GOP budget.
While the White House has ripped the Ryan Medicare plan, the president has not ruled out changes to Medicare as part of a deal on the debt ceiling. GOP leaders, most notably Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMichigan Dems highlight Flint with unanimous opposition to CR Congress departs for recess until after Election Day How Congress averted shutdown MORE (Ky.), have insisted on Medicare spending reductions.
Congressional Democrats are wary of entitlement cuts, especially if Republicans continue to balk at increasing taxes for the wealthy.
Furthermore, a major deal on Medicare could weaken the Democrats' plan of using the entitlement program as political ammunition on the campaign trail next year.
The Thursday meeting at the White House comes six months after House Democrats publicly and privately lashed out at Obama for agreeing to extend the George W. Bush-era tax rates for two years. Some Democrats were also unhappy with the fiscal 2011 deal that averted a government shutdown.
Without a doubt, the relationship between Obama and House Democrats is uneasy at best.
BoehnerJohn Boehner3 ways the next president can succeed on immigration reform Republican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare MORE’s comments could change the timetable for a bipartisan agreement, which many lawmakers and Wall Street analysts had previously assumed would not be ironed out until right before the August congressional recess.
His statements could also be an attempt to shield the GOP from blame if the stock market plunges next month in the absence of a deal.
In a press briefing with reporters, Boehner said that waiting until later in the summer could negatively affect financial markets. He claimed an agreement “needs to be done over the next month.”
“There’s no reason to bump up against [Aug. 2],” he said, predicting a deal would be reached if “we’re serious about no brinksmanship and no rattling investors … I’m ready to get it done this month.”
After Aug. 2, Treasury argues it will not longer have enough flexibility to shift money in accounts in order to prevent a default on U.S. debt.
Wall Street has so far shrugged off the debt negotiations in Washington, and Boehner and other lawmakers have been careful to telegraph their moves to New York to prevent plunging markets. The House on Tuesday rejected a "clean" hike to the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling that was not linked to spending cuts.
But with troubling signs about the economy piling up, lawmakers and the White House are expected to come under new pressure to reach an agreement on the debt ceiling.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner will meet with House Republican freshmen on Thursday to discuss the debt limit. The freshman class of 2010 has demanded steep spending cuts in exchange for a hike in the debt ceiling, and some of those members have cast doubt on the Aug. 2 deadline.
Both sides have used campaign-style rhetoric at times during the debate, which could make it more difficult for a group of lawmakers and Vice President Biden to reach an agreement.
House Budget panel Chairman Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan: Recession 'around the corner' without tax reform Michigan Dems highlight Flint with unanimous opposition to CR Congress departs for recess until after Election Day MORE (R-Wis.) on Wednesday accused the president of demagoguing on Medicare during the GOP's meeting with the president at the White House.
Ryan told Obama he was wrong to characterize Republicans as turning their backs on children and senior citizens, lawmakers present for the meeting said.
Ryan told the president, “Leadership should come from the top,” according to Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), who was there. Ryan also called out the president for his speech at George Washington University in April, during which he castigated the Republican budget in harsh terms while Ryan sat just a few feet away.
“As far as Medicare is concerned, we wanted to make sure the president understood the facts about our proposal so he doesn’t continue to mischaracterize it. We just needed to clear the air,” Ryan told reporters at the Capitol. He did not describe his exchange with Obama in detail.
King said Ryan stopped short of directly accusing Obama of demagoguing the issue but that he was “politely critical” of the president. “Obviously we disagree. Ours was a good proposal,” King paraphrased the House Budget Committee chairman as saying. “It was wrong to accuse us of turning our backs on autistic children or putting senior citizens out on the street.”
Several lawmakers confirmed the tone of Ryan’s comments and said Obama responded by suggesting that both sides had engaged in demagoguery.
King said that earlier in the meeting, Obama tried to point out, in a lighthearted way, that Republicans were guilty of mischaracterizing him as well. “He said, ‘As someone who’s a socialist, who wants to have government-run healthcare … and whose birth certificate is being questioned, I can empathize with that,’ ” King said.
This story was posted at 6:28 a.m. and updated at 8:12 a.m.