With the election behind them, Obama and Congress had just weeks until the George W. Bush-era tax cuts expired and automatic spending cuts — the sequester — kicked in, sucking billions of dollars out of a still-struggling economy. The president summoned congressional leaders for a 10:15 a.m. meeting in the White House’s Roosevelt Room on Nov. 16. In the news media, it was described afterwards by all sides as a chummy gathering infused with goodwill — “a rare show of bipartisan bonhomie,” according to the New York Times.
Note-takers for both Democrats and Republicans, however, recorded the meeting’s unpleasant end.
“That episode from 2011 was the worst,” Obama said, recalling the previous year’s painful struggle over the debt ceiling. “I will not sign anything that does not have a debt-limit increase.”
“Everything comes at a price,” Boehner replied. “And I’m going to use the debt limit to extract things out of you that I would not otherwise get.” The previous year, he had used the same tactic — leveraging the need to increase the federal government’s borrowing authority — to get large spending cuts from the president.
“Well, that’s my price,” Obama retorted. He would not permit a replay of the previous year.
Obama called Boehner to the White House on Sunday, Dec. 9. After a long discussion, the president was optimistic: “We’re close to an agreement.”
Obama, who had been insisting on the need to identify $1.6 trillion in new revenue, seemed to make a concession when he said, “I need more than $1 trillion in revenue.”
“I’m thinking more like $1 trillion in revenue,” Boehner said, upping his earlier offer of $800 billion achieved through tax reform.
“We’ll let these guys work out the details,” Obama said, gesturing to their aides. “You guys need to get together and discuss this as soon as possible. All right. Excellent.”
They seemed to be headed in the right direction: the middle.
On Friday, Dec. 14, at 5 p.m., Boehner called Obama with a detailed offer that included two key concessions: He was willing to raise taxes on individuals making more than $1 million and to extend the debt limit for a year.
By the next night, Boehner’s concessions had leaked to the media. There was widespread angst, even fury, among Republican House members who had not been told in advance and who opposed any tax increases. “We’re getting crushed,” said Brett Loper, Boehner’s policy chief.