Obama 'refuses to allow' debt ceiling fight, meets with Boehner

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

President Obama told House Speaker John Boehner and other congressional leaders on Wednesday that he "refuses to allow" a repeat of last year's fight over raising the debt ceiling, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

"The topic did come up. The speaker raised it, and the president made clear that we're not going to repeat the debt-ceiling debacle of last August," Carney said.

"The speaker said, 'Are you saying we should pass a clean debt-ceiling bill?'" Carney said, by way of clarifying Boehner's statement.

The president favors a balanced approach to deficit reduction, Carney said--the same priorities he brought into last year's round of negotiations.

Obama met for lunch with House and Senate leaders to discuss his "To Do list" of legislative priorities for job creation. During the meeting, the president also brought up the need to prevent the interest rates on student loans from doubling this summer, Carney said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used the meeting on Wednesday to emphasize his view that sequestration will occur if Republicans to do not agree to new tax revenue, a Democratic Senate aide said in a readout of the meeting.

“Senator Reid made clear his view that absent a balanced agreement that pairs smart spending cuts with revenue measures asking millionaires to pay their fair share, the debt will be dealt with through the sequester, which will cut another $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending in a fair manner—half from military spending and half from domestic spending,” the aide said.

Reid also called Boehner’s assertion that the debt ceiling should not increase without equivalent spending cuts premature, the aide said: “Since no debt-ceiling increase will likely be necessary until after the end of the year, Senator Reid conveyed his view that any discussion of the debt ceiling is premature until after the sequester takes effect or is replaced with a balanced agreement, and after Congress deals with the expiring Bush tax cuts."

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said McConnell in the meeting urged Democrats to compromise with the GOP on legislation to stop student interest rates from doubling in July. “In a cordial lunch meeting, Senator McConnell pressed the president and the Democrat leadership on the need to produce a bill to prevent the student-loan interest-rate increase that can actually pass the Senate."

“We all agreed that rates shouldn’t go up this year and that we need to resolve the differences and pass legislation together,” McConnell said in a statement.

In the meeting, McConnell cited a lengthy list of bills that Congress has passed in the last year “when poison pills were removed and Republicans were included in the debate,” Stewart said. “And he believes that there is time before the election for even more bipartisan accomplishments.”

Boehner’s office called the lunch “friendly.”

A Boehner aide said Obama began the meeting by laying out “some of his policy goals, including his To Do list.

“The bulk of the meeting was spent discussing other issues, including the next debt-limit increase and the looming expiration of current tax rates,” the aide said. “In a discussion of the debt limit, the speaker—who has warned that the growing debt is hurting U.S. job creation -- asked the president if he is proposing that Congress pass an increase that does not include any spending cuts to help reduce the deficit.”

According the aide, “the president said, ‘yes.’ The speaker told the president, ‘as long as I’m around here, I’m not going to allow a debt-ceiling increase without doing something serious about the debt.’ The speaker also asked the president for his plans to deal with the largest tax increase in American history, which will mean tax hikes on small businesses, and the devastating cuts poised to hit our military, both scheduled to take effect at the end of the year.”

Boehner also asked Obama to approve the controversial Keystone pipeline energy project, his office said, and asked Obama to encourage Attorney General Eric Holder to provide the information sought by congressional investigators on the "Fast and Furious" operation. “The speaker was very pleased with the sandwiches served,” the aide said.

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