On Wednesday, President Obama had a fairly contentious discussion with several House Republicans, including the GOP leadership, over ongoing debt-reduction talks. The House majority party, not surprisingly, pushed the president to accept sweeping cuts to just about everything, most notably Medicare.
Yesterday afternoon, it was House Democrats’ turn to push Obama in the opposite direction.
In a meeting with House Democrats on Thursday, President Obama stressed that his administration would draw a firm line on taxes and revenues both in the deficit- and debt-reduction debates and in the buildup to the 2012 elections.
According to multiple meeting attendees, the president reiterated on several occasions that a deal to raise the country’s debt ceiling would include revenue increases, even as Republican lawmakers insist that such a deal should be restricted to spending cuts and entitlement reforms.
“I’ve been very clear about revenues as a part of a balanced package, and I will continue to be,” said Obama.
The goal of a “clean” debt-ceiling bill is obviously long gone; the question now is what kind of deal the parties will reach. The president remains committed to the “balanced” approach that includes both cuts and additional revenue, but Republicans have said repeatedly they won’t accept any plan that includes any tax increase on anyone at any time. And as some top GOP lawmakers conceded yesterday, they fully expect Obama to cave when the pressure intensifies.
The president’s message to his House Democratic allies was straightforward: he’ll hold the line and demand additional revenue. Indeed, Obama vowed to let the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans expire on schedule next year “no matter what hostages” Republicans take.
That’s obviously what the caucus wanted to hear.
On foreign policy, however, the discussion was a little less friendly.
One of the leading Democratic opponents of the war in Afghanistan exited the White House disappointed with Obama’s lack of clarity on what he plans to do next month, when a drawdown of troops from Afghanistan is slated to begin.
“I told him that if it’s just a token drawdown, I think people will be pretty outraged by that. The American people want an end to this war,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said afterward. McGovern, the author of a plan to set a firm timeline for withdraw, added that he felt Obama had evaded the specifics of how many troops would begin to come home.
“I don’t feel we got an assurance that there would be a substantial and significant drawdown of American forces in July,” McGovern said. “He didn’t tell us what it would be, but I didn’t get the assurance that I was hoping to get.”
Other Democrats said that McGovern received a strong applause from rank-and-file Democrats for pushing the president on the issue.
Obama ended the discussion, which lasted more than an hour, by noting that talking with House Dems is like being with “family.” And like any family, these folks aren’t going to agree on everything, but by all accounts, Democratic lawmakers left the White House fairly pleased.