House Republican leaders head back to the White House on Tuesday carrying a message they heard earlier from their Conference: “Mr. President, what’s your plan?” And the demand comes with a reinforced pledge: "Still no new taxes." House Republicans huddled on Tuesday and showed no signs of yielding to Democrats’ demands that revenues be part of a deficit reduction package tied to the pending debt ceiling increase.
If anything, the rank-and-file’s message to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who are taking that message to the White House, is that Republicans do not view the debt ceiling as a problem they created, but rather one they are willing to help the president resolve if he is willing to bend to their terms.
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“Where’s the president’s plan? When’s he going to lay his cards on the table? This debt limit increase is his problem, and I think it’s time for him to lead by putting his plan on the table, something that Congress can pass,” Boehner told reporters.
It was a message that juiced Republicans in Tuesday’s meeting, who are increasingly defiant towards Obama on the question of whether the debt ceiling is a shared problem. “This is mostly debt we didn’t run up. We didn’t vote for the stimulus bill. We didn’t vote for the health care package; we didn’t vote, for the most part, for the higher discretionary spending,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “Look, we recognize we’re all in the same country, we all have an obligation here. But there these were mostly Democratic spending plans, and the idea that we would raise taxes to pay for programs we voted against? That’s a pretty hard sell.”
Leaders briefed members on the proposed spending cuts outlined by Cantor that the GOP believes will save just over $2 trillion in 10 years, although the White House believes those savings are closer to $1.8 trillion. But spending cuts are only one part of an agreement required to secure the votes of their Conference. Members like Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who is running for governor, said his vote is contingent on sending a balanced budget amendment to the states, although it is unlikely both chambers could secure the two-thirds majority required for that to occur. Other members are equally resistant to any package that does not enact statutory budget caps to draw down spending levels. There is unanimity in opposition to tax increases.
While there was no indication that Republicans were any closer to a deal with the White House, the mood at Conference was described as positive, according to lawmakers in the room. Cole expressed confidence that a deal was reachable. “There is sufficient movement that we can get the votes that we need once we get the deal in front of us,” he said, noting that lawmakers are mindful of the consequences of default. “I don’t think many people want to run that risk,” he said.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., was incredulous at the Republican argument that their big give in the negotiations would be voting to raise the debt ceiling at all. “I reject out of hand, categorically, and emphatically that somehow they are giving us this,” Hoyer told reporters. “For Mr. Cantor to say that it was a major concession by the Republicans to sit down at the table to discuss getting to an agreement is an extraordinary comment to be made in a democracy.”
This article appears in the July 12, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.