As the dozens of members of the House Republican Conference left the White House where they’d spoken with President Obama about the deficit and job creation, Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., had a one-word review of the mood in the meeting.
“Frosty is the word,” Gingrey said.
Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Penn., had a different take – though he brings some perspective from his previous profession.
“I’m a psychologist,” Murphy said. “Let me just say it was good for them to talk. Good group therapy.”
Murphy said the idea that Democrats and Republicans are talking is good. “We don’t get anywhere by being on opposite sides of Pennsylvania Avenue. Any conversation that keeps going is good.”
The meeting, in the East Room of the White House, lasted for one hour and 15 minutes.
"Obviously there are long term disagreements," said White House press secretary Jay Carney. "But there is common ground and more common ground to be found to signigicantly reduce our deficits."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, described it as a “frank conversation” that he thought was “productive.”
One House Republican told ABC News that he didn’t find the meeting confrontational. “It was people making their points,” he said. “A little honesty is not a bad thing.”
At the meeting, according to attendees,House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, noted that House GOP has an budget plan, offered by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., that could be “scored”—analyzed in detail — by the Congressional Budget Office.
The President does not, Cantor noted.
Pointing to lower-than-expected private sector job numbers in May, Cantor said more needs to be done to encourage job growth and motivate the private sector to create jobs, rather than increasing the size of government with money that we don’t have.
Cantor also criticized Democrats’ “Medi-scare” attacks, saying that the charges that the GOP is taking medicine from grandma to pad the pockets of the rich isn’t helpful. He urged the president to continue the cooperation from December – when the Bush tax cuts were extended – to not “raise taxes on families, small businesses and investors.”
House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., is hard at work at putting together a tax reform plan, Cantor noted, asking the to work with them.
The president agreed that job growth needs to be a priority, saying that he is all for tax reform and happy to work together to achieve it. The president said the U.S. has the lowest tax rate as a percentage of GDP since the 1950s. We’ve been on an experiment of low tax rates for the last decade, and growth has been anemic, he said. He noted that cutting taxes is smart to do politically, but the question is whether it is sustainable .
The president added that he is all for a reduction of demagoguery, an issue he understands since he is the ‘job killing, death panel, probably-wasn't-born-here president.’
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told the president that Republicans won’t negotiate with themselves. The president’s budget outline he offered in his April budget speech at George Washington University did not include enough specifics for the CBO to score it. From our impression, he said, if a plan is not scoreable by CBO, we don’t view it as a plan, he said. We need real accountability.
He challenged the President to agree to principles that budget details should be scoreable and that real entitlement reform is needed.
The president agreed that progress was made in avoiding a government shutdown by finding some short term cuts, and he agreed that anything “we agree to” needs to be scored. Entitlements will have to be part of solution, he said, and he instructed his team to look into it, saying he told his team to have a serious conversation about it.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, asked when they can expect to see a White House budget plan in a form that can be scored by CBO.
President Obama said he wanted a joint agreement that is score-able.
Ryan then spoke, saying that leaders can either exacerbate the problem of demagoguery or tone it down.
The House Budget Committee chairman said he thought they were having a year of cooperation with the White House and House Republicans able to work together on preventing the Bush tax cuts from expiring, and a budget for the rest of the year, but President Obama’s GWU speech was the opposite.
The president said in that speech that Republicans don't care about kids with autism and other disabilities, Ryan said.
Healthcare is the driver of our debt right now, Ryan said. He also described his plan for Medicare reform for the president, saying Democrats were mischaracterizing it. Our program is not a voucher plan, Ryan said, it is premium support — which he then explained.
Ryan told the president that he is making a sincere attempt to address a problem, and he challenged the president: “Mr. President, the demagoguery only stops if the Leaders stop it."
His fellow House Republicans gave him a standing ovation.
President Obama told Ryan that he read the proposal and has never questioned its sincerity.
The Ryan proposal obtains its savings not by reducing health costs but by replacing Medicare with a subsidy that doesn't keep up with health care costs as they increase, the president said. That is a legitimate approach to solving the government's problem, but that does nothing for people who need health care as costs continue to rise.
The president said his administration believes that if we are going to solve the problem, we have to get more bang for the buck.
“Paul, you are a very sincere person," the president said.
The public wants no changes in benefits but they don't want to pay for it, so we all have a challenge with our bases, the president said. The only way we solve it is if we sit in a room and come to some compromises. After the meeting, the House Republican leadership described the meeting to reporters.
Boehner discussed a letter signed by economists "who agreed that if we're going to get serious about creating jobs in America, we've got to reduce some of the uncertainty. Some of that uncertainty is caused by the giant debt that's facing our country. And the fact is, if we're going to raise the debt limit, the spending cuts should exceed the increase in the debt limit; otherwise it'll serve to cost us jobs in our country."
Cantor said the president “heard from Republicans in the House that the debt burden will lead to high taxes. We did not hear from the president a specific plan of his to deal with the debt crisis that can be scored by CBO.”
Ryan said he told the president that they've "got to take on this debt, and if we demagogue we each other at the leadership level, then we're never going to take on our debt. We have a debt crisis coming. We want to deal with this….and if we try to demagogue each other's attempts to do that, then we're not applying the kind of political leadership we need to get this economy growing and get this debt under control."
Ryan said he also took time to explain precisely what his plan for Medicare is.
“I simply explained what our plan is, how it works," Ryan said. "It's been mis-described by the president and many others. And so we simply described to him precisely what it is we've been proposing, so that he hears from us how our proposal works, so that in the future, he won't mischaracterize it."
Said Hensarling: “Any day Republicans and Democrats are actually having a dialogue, this is a good day."