“We’re not going to cut any deal that can’t be sold,” Biden told reporters at the Capitol after emerging from the more than two-hour meeting. “And let’s get one last thing straight here. Whatever gets sold and the Congress affirmatively votes on is going to have to end up as a practical matter having a lot of Democrat and a lot of Republican votes. There’s no way you could think of anything where you’re going to have it delivered by only Democrats, and there’s no way you can have any agreement that’s only going to be delivered by Republicans.”
Thursday’s meeting, the working group’s third huddle this week, focused largely on non-health-care mandatory spending. Biden said Thursday that the “really tough stuff that’s left are the big-ticket items -- and philosophically big-ticket items” – such as health-care spending. The group agreed Thursday to step up the pace to as many as four meetings next week, with members working toward a “down payment” on the ultimate goal of deficit savings of $4 trillion over the next decade.
“There has to be a real down payment, and there has to be a real path that people believe, ‘Yes, it’s possible and it’s probable that they’ll get at the end of ten years to $4 trillion,’” Biden said.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said after Thursday’s meeting that the group is “very serious about seeing if we can come to some resolution.”
“We really are covering every type of spending program there is,” Cantor said. “We had a lot of discussion today in the mandatory area, non-health-care mandatory, and we have more to do on that, and we’ve got more to do on the health-care and we’ve got more to do on the discretionary.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), another participant in the talks, confirmed after the meeting that the working group members are hoping to agree to the basic framework of an agreement by July 1.
“I think the idea is that we would either reach an agreement in principle by then or recognize that we’re not able to bridge our differences,” Van Hollen said.
President Obama, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would then likely step in to work out a final deal. Some initial progress on that front may be made Saturday, when Boehner, Biden, Obama and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) are slated to hold their first-ever “golf summit.”
Biden also on Thursday had warm words for Cantor, who earlier this week offered similar praise for the vice president.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with Eric Cantor – for real,” Biden said. “I mean, it’s been a great, pleasant surprise for me. The guy’s smart as hell. I don’t want to ruin his reputation, I don’t want to hurt him. But he really is. He’s smart, and he’s been totally, completely straightforward and sincere.”
Congress faces an Aug. 2 deadline set by the Treasury Department to vote to raise the federal borrowing limit or else the country will default on its debt obligations.
A full transcript of Biden’s gaggle with reporters after Thursday’s meeting is below.
BIDEN: “We have almost covered the whole waterfront in the federal budget. I’ll say two things, and I think everyone would confirm it in there, that everybody wants an agreement. There’s no principal in that room that doesn’t want to get an agreement that bends the curve on the long-term debt; that is sufficiently realistic to get us to $4 trillion over a decade or so, in terms of reduction; and that, in fact, will meet the test that everybody has out there who is unwilling to vote for a debt ceiling to say, ‘This is real. They’ve done something real.’ That’s what I mean by everybody’s committed to that, and they’re really working toward that.”
“There are differences that are going to have to be bridged and that won’t occur until the end. You’ve all covered this place long enough to know. So, what we’ve done is we’ve gone through all the discrete elements of the budget and we’ve said, ‘Okay, if we have an agreement on everything, we agree on this piece. We can save $10 here. And so that’s, let’s say, what they call other discretionary.’ We say, ‘Well, if everything else gets agreed to, including revenue, well, we could save $10 here.’ On discretionary spending, which is everything from the defense budget to the FBI to whatever, we’ve gone through all of that, and we said, ‘Well, we can save $5 here, assuming that we get a total agreement.’”
“We’ve gone through all these discrete elements, and the really tough stuff that’s left are the big-ticket items -- and philosophically big-ticket items. Anything having to do with health care – I don’t mean major Medicare reform, but just changes in health care policy. Not Barack Obama’s quote-unquote, as they call it, ‘Obamacare.’ But just everything from prescription drugs and greater provider participation. All those kinds of things.”
“And I’ve really enjoyed working with Eric Cantor – for real. I mean, it’s been a great, pleasant surprise for me. The guy’s smart as hell. I don’t want to ruin his reputation, I don’t want to hurt him. But he really is. He’s smart, and he’s been totally, completely straightforward and sincere. As has Jon Kyl. As has Jim Clyburn. I mean, they all – Chris – they all have been.”
“And so, where we are now is we have gone through a first, serious scrub of each of the categories that make up the total federal budget, including mandatory spending. And we said if we could agree on the pieces most important to us, Democrats – revenue – we’re prepared to agree on some of the things you want in discretionary spending. If we can get an agreement on military, we’re prepared to do more on – boom. You all know what ideological divides we have in both our parties.”
“And so, now this next week, we’re going to be going basically, the staff, around the clock. We have, I think, four meetings scheduled. We’ve told people to take bigger chunks of time out of their calendar for these meetings. And now we’re getting down to the real, hard stuff. ‘I’ll trade you my bicycle for your golf clubs.’”
Q: Are you worried that you might cut a deal and this might be unsalable to the rank-and-file? Why not?
“No. Because we’ve been appointed by the leadership, because we know the principals for whom we speak. Nobody in there is going to go – we’re not going to cut any deal that can’t be sold. And let’s get one last thing straight here. Whatever gets sold and the Congress affirmatively votes on is going to have to end up as a practical matter having a lot of Democrat and a lot of Republican votes. There’s no way you could think of anything where you’re going to have it delivered by only Democrats, and there’s no way you can have any agreement that’s only going to be delivered by Republicans.”
“There’s going to be some Democrats who will vote for none of cutting anything. There are going to be some Republicans who won’t vote for anything at all. I mean, you’ve got people voting against deals because it didn’t save 60 zillion dollars, you know? So therefore I’m not going to be for anything. So we are in constant contact with one another and we’re being honest in assessing to one another. ... And so far, none of the Democrats or Republicans has thought that their counterpart has been exaggerating. We understand the Republican pressures; they understand the Democratic pressures.”
“Last thing. At the end of the day, we’re going to have to decide on what is good for the country that actually gets the rest of the world saying, ‘These guys got their house in order. They’re on the right track, man. They’ve made a significant – they’ve tackled some significant political dilemma, and they’ve solved it.’ Like we used to. Because what is the shtick out there? ‘This is a dysfunctional place. Can’t get anything done.’” The single most important thing to do for the markets is to convince them that, ‘No, no. That’s not true. We can handle difficult decisions and make them.’”
“And the second piece of this is that it has to be real. There has to be a real down payment, and there has to be a real path that people believe, ‘Yes, it’s possible and it’s probable that they’ll get at the end of ten years to $4 trillion.’ That’s all I’ve got to say.”