White House frustration with House Republican leaders deepened on Friday as meaningful discussions between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner remained in a fifth day of a deep freeze caused by Boehner’s total focus on pushing his own debt bill through the House.
Democrats familiar with the situation cast Friday as essentially a lost day in which no serious talks were underway between the White House and House Republicans. They said there were many conversations, often theoretical in nature, with senators from both parties. But they were running into GOP senators who, while voicing increasing apprehension, did not want to be seen as undercutting Boehner.
The hope at the White House is that the dam will break late Friday night after the House vote. But as one Democrat noted, there will be only 96 hours before the Tuesday deadline—and still many contentious details to work out, most notably the design of “triggers” that would be tripped if spending targets are not met.
If real progress is made, one Democrat said that the White House would accept a short, two-day raising of the debt ceiling to give Congress time to complete work on a measure to raise it into 2013.
They confirmed that the president and the speaker had not conversed since last Sunday. They blamed Boehner for the lack of communications and said the president has been talking with senators and with some House members throughout the week.
The bitterness toward Boehner has soared since that last talk between the principals, with much of the good will built during months of talks eroding as the hours dwindle before the deadline. The Democrats viewed the past few days as a lost week that should have been spent negotiating a bipartisan solution, one that could pass a Democratic Senate and a Republican House.
With the focus shifting to the Senate and the time running out, the White House is counting heavily on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to figure out ways to speed an alternative though an upper body famed for its balky procedures and mechanisms designed to slow down legislation. They are also relying on centrist Republicans, including Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to lend a hand.
A key indicator of how tough the final talks will be, said the Democrats, is what Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., say at the conclusion of the House vote. The White House is praying that the two leaders do not present a “take-it-or-leave-it” face. The biggest fear among Democrats is that Boehner has been so tied up corralling his own caucus that he has not spent a minute thinking about what comes next and how to come up with legislation that can draw Democratic votes.