Both sides appeared Sunday to dig further into their positions, leaving the talks deadlocked, a historic default looming and a fragile economy increasingly vulnerable to the consequences of Washington’s entrenched partisanship and ideological divide over taxes and entitlements.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio)
jolted the negotiations Saturday when he announced that his party would not support the larger deficit-cutting plan Obama has proposed because it includes tax increases, complicating the meeting’s agenda. According to a Democratic official familiar with the Sunday talks, Obama asked Republican leaders, “If not now, when?”
The enduring disagreement, drawn sharply along partisan lines as an election year approaches, brought warnings from the administration and congressional Democrats that, unless a deal is reached within two weeks — to give Congress time to approve it — the United States would default on its fiscal obligations for the first time.
Asked whether the parties could reach a deal in the next 10 days, Obama, flanked by congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room before the meeting, said simply, “We need to.”
The Democratic official said Obama, who began the session by recounting the nature of the compromise that had been under discussion before Boehner’s announcement, pushed for the larger plan throughout the meeting.
He reminded Boehner, the official said, that the speaker had admitted that a smaller deal could be just as difficult to push through Congress as a large one, and he challenged Republicans to return to the White House on Monday with a plan to secure the 218 votes needed for a measure to pass the House. Obama told the group to expect to meet daily until a deal is reached, said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.
“The president pushed to do something real and not just kick the can down the road,” said a senior administration official. “He said he was ready, willing and able to make the hard choices and hoped they would join him.”
Republican leaders, meanwhile, suggested that a “contingency plan” is in the works to raise the debt ceiling if the gulf between the parties could not be bridged. Obama has dismissed incremental steps, saying that now is the moment to address the underlying causes of fiscal imbalance.