On Sunday, President Obama hosted a secret meeting with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to discuss a fiscal agreement that would allow Congress to lift the debt ceiling, the White House confirmed on Monday.
The meeting came as House Republicans prepare to vote on Tuesday on a controversial budget plan that would render their own budget unconstitutional and propose dramatic spending reductions. However, the bill is expected to fail in the Senate, allowing more House conservatives to support an eventual compromise bill.
After a Rose Garden ceremony, Obama told a reporter, "We're making progress."
All eyes in Washington are focused on talks between Senate Leaders Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that would tee off spending cuts in the $1.5 trillion range and set the stage to increase the government’s borrowing limit. Ambitions for a deficit-reduction deal on the order of $4 trillion were scotched after Republicans refused to include tax revenue in a budget agreement.
White House press secretary Jay Carney pushed back against assertions that the McConnell-Reid plan is a short-term deal in an effort to pave the way for Obama to embrace that proposal. The president has pledged not to sign a short-term debt-ceiling increase, but the plan forged by the two Senate leaders is increasingly looking like the only one that can pass Congress.
"If necessary, it's not the preferred outcome, it's not the desired outcome … [but] that's better than allowing the United States to default on its obligations," Carney said. He acknowledged the McConnell-Reid plan is a short-term deal "as written," but called it a "wholly different kind of measure" than the kind of short-term budget measure passed to prevent a government shutdown in April.
Although Obama does not have a meeting about deficit negotiations on his public schedule today, that does not preclude a round of in-person talks like the one that took place on Sunday. Carney said conversations have been ongoing since Thursday.
"There are too many conversations and meetings taking place for us to catalogue every one," the White House spokesman said of why Sunday's meeting was not announced.
Carney said the president is still pushing for the biggest deal possible, but acknowledged that a large package may not pass Congress. "We need to make sure that whatever we do here will pass Congress and be acceptable for the president to sign," Carney said.
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