Just $5 billion was about half a day’s worth of the federal government’s expenditures — closer to the wire than the public had been told.
The president told his senior staff that the call with Boehner had led nowhere.
“So we’ve got to figure out Plan B. Which is, how do we get out of this thing?” he said.
The problem was that they did not have a Plan B.
It was increasingly clear that no one was running Washington. That was trouble for everyone, but especially for Obama. Although running things is a joint venture between the president and Congress, a president has to dominate Congress — or at least be seen as dominating Congress. The last president to fold was George H.W. Bush, who gave in to Democrats’ demands that income taxes be raised in a 1990 budget deal. And Bush had been a one-term president.
When Obama learned that the deal negotiated among the congressional leaders would require a two-step increase in the debt limit, he told Rob Nabors, the White House director of legislative affairs, “The one thing I said I actually needed, they didn’t get,” referring to Reid and Pelosi. “I needed this to go past the election, and they didn’t get it for me. This can’t work.”
Obama sent word that he wanted the two Democratic leaders at the White House at 6 p.m. that Sunday, July 24. No reason was given.
Reid arrived in the Oval Office with his chief of staff, David Krone.
“Harry,” the president began, “I hear you have kind of an outline, a framework of something.”
Reid began to lay out the two-step $2.7 -trillion debt limit extension, then stopped. He was not a details guy. “Well, let David just tell you what it is,” he said.
It was highly unusual for someone to pass the ball so completely to a staffer. The 44-year-old Krone outlined the plan, including a secret Republican pledge to count $1 trillion in savings from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan toward deficit reduction. That was surprising. Earlier, Boehner had not been willing to accept this accounting gimmick.
“I don’t trust these guys,” the president said dismissively.
Krone either would not or could not conceal his anger.
“Wait a second,” Obama said, interrupting someone else who was about to speak. “I can tell David has something else to say.”
“Mr. President, I am sorry — with all due respect — that we are in this situation that we’re in, but we got handed this football on Friday night. And I didn’t create this situation. The first thing that baffles me is, from my private-sector experience, the first rule that I’ve always been taught is to have a Plan B. And it is really disheartening that you, that this White House did not have a Plan B.”
Several jaws dropped as the Hill staffer blasted the president to his face.
“So I don’t have a lot of options, in the past 36, 48 hours, to put together,” Krone continued. “We’re supposed to be the ones that fend off an economic catastrophe. And what we find ourselves is now, with no deal, we’re going to have to root for the worst possible things to happen in order to prove to the Republicans that you cannot be so callous and let the debt limit expire.