Does Killing Democratic Legislation Create ‘Certainty’?: Behind Closed Doors of President Obama’s Bipartisan Meeting

Feb 9, 2010 4:26pm

Sources with both the White House and congressional Republicans tell ABC News that at President Obama’s meeting with the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate in the Cabinet room this morning, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told the president that concerns about Democrats’ policies – possible tax hikes, health care reform legislation, the energy bill – is creating significant uncertainty in the business community and hurting job creation.

The president responded that some uncertainty is expected given that the nation just faced the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. But he talks to business leaders all the time, the president said, and their concerns are that they’re not convinced Washington can agree on anything. Your argument is that if we don’t pass health care reform or energy legislation then that amounts to certainty, the president said.

No, no, said Boehner. I’m saying we should settle these issues.

That’s great, said the president. Let’s settle them. If we work together we can create an environment where businesses can thrive. Right now small businesses don’t know if we can agree on anything.

The sources say there were two tense moments in the meeting, both between the president and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The president took McConnell to task for the 63 holds Senate Republicans had put on his appointments.

McConnell pointed out that such holds have happened before.

The president replied that it hasn’t happened to this degree before – President Bush had holds put on six of his nominees.

“I have ten times that,” the president said, referring to 63 nominees who have been held up.

The president also criticized McConnell for statements he made against the bipartisan debt reduction commission, which he had voiced support for in the past.

McConnell said he’d said that before the president’s “spending binge.”

We can go outside and have that argument, the president said — meaning they could have the argument in public about the steps the administration took to shore up the faltering economy – but if you guys have ideas about how to deal with the debt problem just by spending cuts, then by all means bring them to the commission. Nobody’s excited to raise taxes.

McConnell said he’d raised the issue of a fiscal commission with the president even before his inauguration but had heard nothing for over a year from the president until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., brought the bill to the Senate floor. The president had endorsed the commission the Saturday before the vote, which failed.

The president asked McConnell and Boehner to join Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in pledging to appoint members to his fiscal commission, formed by executive order, which he said would be based on the same fiscal commission that failed in the Senate.

Boehner argued that if the White House is serious about cutting spending then it should start now.

You should use your authority to send proposals for spending cuts to the Hill, Boehner said, and you will have our cooperation if you do. Boehner outlined concerns he has about the commission, including that the commission should issue its recommendations before Election Day, not afterwards, as President Obama has proposed.

Both McConnell and Boehner refused to make any commitments on appointing members to the president’s debt reduction commission, saying they want to see the details of the proposal before they can sign off.

There were some areas of agreement in the meeting. Boehner expressed support for the president’s proposed elimination of capital gains taxes for small business investment, though he did express concern over whether the president’s proposed hiring tax credit is workable. 

McConnell said he was confident there could be bipartisan cooperation on four issues – off shore drilling, expanding the use of nuclear energy, the development of so-called clean coal, and furthering US exports, all of which the president mentioned in his State of the Union address.

– jpt


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