A testy White House meeting between President Obama and House Republican leaders Wednesday failed to lower the partisan pitch in the capital, much less make progress toward a deal on the federal debt ceiling.
Instead, the two sides traded complaints, accusing each other of partisanship and posturing. Republicans demanded that the administration produce a budget-cutting plan, which the White House said it had already done.
Rep. Paul D. Ryan, architect of a Medicare overhaul aimed at slashing the cost of the popular entitlement program by reducing the government’s open-ended commitment to seniors, accused Obama of “mis-describing” his plan and implored the president to ease up on the “demagoguery.”
In reply, Obama said he was no stranger to cartoonish depictions, reeling off a list of conservatives’ favorite attack points: “I’m the death-panel-supporting, socialist, may-not-have-been-born-here president,” Obama said, according to people familiar with his remarks.
The meeting was meant to resolve pent-up grievances and move toward compromise on the deficit and the cost of healthcare for seniors. But after 75 minutes of talk in the East Room, the two sides parted company with little progress.
Ground rules had been strict. By mutual agreement, neither side was allowed to bring press aides into the room so as to minimize the post-summit spin.
But that didn’t stop participants from tweeting their impressions. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) sent photos from the meeting in real time, including a blurry picture of Ryan, microphone in hand, accompanied by the line: “Ryan speaks the truth …"
The truth according to Ryan is that Obama and others have distorted his Medicare plan, which would give the next generation of seniors an annual stipend to buy health insurance on the private market. If the stipend fell short, seniors would cover the difference.
Ryan told Obama how his Medicare plan would work and asked the president not to demagogue the issue. His GOP colleagues gave him a standing ovation.
Obama didn’t back off his basic critique of the Ryan plan — that it is a vehicle to shift healthcare costs from the government to the elderly.
Meantime, the Treasury Department reiterated Wednesday that Aug. 2 remained the projected day the nation’s debt ceiling would be exceeded. Failure to increase the borrowing capacity would result in the government’s defaulting on its obligations, which experts predict would lead to turmoil in the financial markets and severe economic consequences.
The nation reached its $14.3-trillion debt limit May 16, but has deferred the default date with complex financial juggling. In return for raising the limit, Republicans want spending cuts that would lead to less borrowing in the future, though their own budget requires increasing the debt limit.
Times staff writer Jim Puzzanghera contributed to this report.