By Erik Wasson and Russell Berman - 07/22/11 03:17 PM EDT
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Friday assured House Republicans that he is not on the verge of striking a deal with the White House to raise the debt ceiling.
“Frankly, we are not close to an agreement,” Boehner said. “I would just suggest it is going to be a hot weekend here in Washington, D.C.”
Boehner told Republicans they should be prepared to pass some kind of legislation related to the debt ceiling by Wednesday, according to Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). Other lawmakers said Boehner said he is talking about fall-back options simply because it would be irresponsible not to.
The Speaker told his members he plans to work all weekend on a deal, and said the House GOP will hold another conference meeting Monday for an update on the talks.
“We have voted to raise the debt ceiling against our strongest wishes. ... We have fulfilled our obligations,” Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said. “The attention is not on the House anymore, go stick your microphones in the faces of the Senate and the president. The House is done!”
Republicans had no substantive discussion of any alternative plan during the session, lawmakers said.
The meeting appeared designed to put pressure on the White House in any private talks while assuaging conservatives who are wary of a debt compromise that fails to make trillions in cuts to federal spending.
With just 11 days to go before the debt ceiling must be raised to avoid a U.S. payments default, Boehner was in a jocular mood: he opened the meeting by telling Republicans he had a secret deal with the White House.
“He started out the conversation with saying we have a deal, and then he started laughing and said we have no deal,” Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) said. “He was being honest with us.”
Boehner told reporters there “never was an agreement” with the White House on a grand bargain.
GOP members on Friday insisted the Senate should amend “cut, cap and balance” and send an alternative back to the House.
Boehner claimed two-thirds of the pubic supports the plan, which would cut at least $6 trillion in spending over a decade without revenue increases. This is based on a CNN poll from this week that found 66 percent of the public favor a plan roughly like it. The same percentage also favored a plan roughly resembling President Obama's mix of cuts and tax increases on business and the wealthy.
“The House has done its job, and I hope the Senate will do theirs. And if they don’t pass our version of ‘cut, cap and balance,’ guess what? That is what the legislative process if for. They can amend it, they can change it, they can send it back over to the House,” Boehner said.
“When is Harry Reid going to put forward his ideas?” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said. “Where are his ideas?”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said after the meeting that Boehner told the caucus that reports of a $3 trillion deficit-cutting deal “were way overblown.”
He said Boehner reported that he is keeping lines of communication open and is looking at various options because it's the responsible thing to do.
“He was not prepping us to accept any short-term deal,” Chaffetz said.
Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-Ill.) said someone in the meeting said the McConnell plan appeared to have been produced by the “Gang of 666.”
Lawmakers said there was little discussion of the Senate’s Gang of Six plan that was released this week, though Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) spoke up at the meeting to ask about the details.
“The president has apparently embraced the Gang of Six’s plan, yet none of us have actually seen the Gang of Six’s plan on paper,” Scott, the president of the GOP freshman class, said after the meeting.
While House Democrats have received briefings on the Gang of Six proposal, House Republicans have not.
Republicans said they were not optimistic about either the Gang of Six or the McConnell option as a solution to the debt standoff.
“Neither one of those has got a prayer here,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said.
When asked if there had been discussions of the McConnell-Reid plan as a potential alternative, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) responded, "There was a lot of talk about how we don’t like the senators sticking their nose in and screwing things up."
The tension of the moment was captured at the end of a press conference when, after once again denying any secret deal, the usually placid Boehner raised his voice.
“At the end of the day we have a spending problem. Somebody has got to get serious about cutting spending, and our friends across the aisle aren’t at all serious about doing what the American people are demanding. Goodbye!” he said.
Watch Boehner below.
Cristina Marcos contributed.
Last updated at 12:06.