Speaker Boehner says deal 'not imminent' in debt negotiations

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Friday said a broad deficit-reduction deal is not “imminent” and stressed that the gap between the White House and Republican leaders has not narrowed in recent days. 

“There is no agreement in private or in public,” Boehner said at a morning press conference. “And as the president said yesterday,” he added, indicating with his hands, “we are this far apart. It’s not like there is some imminent deal about to happen. There are serious disagreements about how to deal with this very serious problem.”

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President Obama will bring eight congressional leaders back to the White House for a critical meeting on Sunday aimed at forging a deal to raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit by the Aug. 2 deadline set by the Treasury Department. Obama said Thursday the sides remained “far apart” but voiced hope that an accord could be reached.

Multiple officials have told The Hill that Obama presented three options for raising the debt ceiling at a meeting with congressional leaders Thursday: a short-term extension he said he would veto, a medium-term extension that would achieve about $2.5 trillion in budget savings identified by the group of negotiators led by Vice President Biden and a larger deal that would slash more than $4 trillion from the deficit over 10 to 12 years.

A source told The Hill that Obama made clear he prefers the $4 trillion package. The president thinks “they should go big and try to get the big one,” the source said. 

Boehner told reporters Friday that he also wants what he would describe as “the big deal.”

“But at the end of the day we’ve got to have a bill that we can pass through the House and the Senate,” the Speaker said. “This is a Rubik’s Cube that we haven’t quite figured out.” 

While Boehner said big differences remained, he did identify the Aug. 2 date as a critical marker in the process.

“While some think we can go past Aug. 2, I frankly think it puts us in an awful lot of jeopardy and puts our economy in jeopardy, risking even more jobs,” the Speaker said.

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Sources told The Hill that even though Boehner expressed his preference for the $4 trillion package in Thursday’s meeting, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) spoke up in favor of the middle choice, modeled on the talks led by Biden, because a $4 trillion package would require up to $1 trillion in new revenues. That could require tax increases, which Republican leaders have ruled out.

Cantor “said that the big deal as described by the president included $1.4 [trillion] to $1.7 trillion in tax hikes and he doesn't support that and the House wouldn't support that,” an aide to the majority leader said.

In a brief interview Friday, Cantor told The Hill that he “is right where the Speaker is.”

“We want to make as much positive change to the fiscal outlook of this country as we possibly can without raising taxes,” Cantor said. “The Speaker’s in the same place I am." 

But while GOP officials have signaled a new openness to considering closing tax loopholes, the majority leader cast doubt that $1 trillion in new revenues would not be considered tax hikes, as defined by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

“I’m not sure how you can even say if CBO defines new revenues as raising taxes how that’s not raising taxes,” Cantor said.

“The insistence that I have and have consistently said throughout the Biden talks and now is that we can’t and won’t support any tax hikes.”

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Cantor’s office separately announced the House would cancel a scheduled recess for the week of July 18 to vote on a balanced-budget amendment, which some conservatives want attached to a debt-limit deal.

Cantor cited the weak monthly jobs report for June as more reason to oppose tax hikes.

“Look at these job numbers,” Cantor said. “I would ask the other side: Do they think now’s the time to raise taxes on small businesses and families? They’ve got to be kidding if they think now’s the time to raise taxes.”