ABC News’ John R. Parkinson (@JRPabcDC) reports:
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said that President Obama “abruptly” ended Wednesday’s bipartisan discussions as the White House – shoving back his chair and saying, “I’ll see you tomorrow,” before walking out of the negotiations.
Cantor, R-Va., said the president became frustrated when he suggested that negotiators should pocket the savings from amicable spending cuts and move forward on a stop-gap measure because the two sides are so far apart that reaching a deal to extend the debt limit through 2013 seems to be out of reach.
“What I said is I’m not clear as to why we keep going downward, and it seems to me that the disagreement on the amount of savings has to do with the Democrats here in this building [the Capitol] and those in the White House,” Cantor said, expressing frustration over what he characterized as a shrinking pool of common agreement on spending cuts, which he said have diminished from about $2 trillion a week ago to about $1.4 trillion in cuts today.
“What I was saying to the president was we are so far apart from getting to the number that would allow us in the House to get the votes to increase the debt limit $2.4 trillion,” Cantor said. “We were at $2 trillion on Thursday, there’s some questions raised, then we went down to $1.8 trillion because of the health care mandatories, then $1.7 [trillion], now $1.4 [trillion]. I mean, this is how the story has been consistently, all week long.”
Cantor recalled President Obama telling the leaders that they “ought to get in the mode here, because we’re going to have to decide by Friday which way we’re going.”
“[President Obama] said we ought to all start to think about things we can do rather than things we can’t, so I asked him, ‘In that spirit Mr. President, does that mean, you know, if we look at the situation we are very far apart right now. You know, if you want the full $2.4 trillion increase and you say that you won’t sign anything else, I don’t know if we can get there,’” Cantor recounted. “I said I was willing to come off my insistence that there’d be one vote, that perhaps we could avoid default.”
The president, along with House Speaker John Boehner, previously insisted that a deal raise the debt ceiling enough to get the country through 2013. President Obama has pledged that he will not sign a deal that does not meet that requirement.
Cantor said that when he asked the president whether he would reconsider signing a stop-gap solution containing the spending cuts of agreement, “that’s when he got very agitated, seemingly.”
Cantor, a six-term lawmaker, said Obama told him, "You either have to compromise on your dollar-for-dollar insistence or you compromise on the big deal" — which Cantor translated as raising taxes.
“He said to me, 'Eric, don’t call my bluff,’” Cantor recalled. “He said, ‘I’m going to the American people with this.’”
Cantor said the president shoved back his chair and said, "I’ll see you tomorrow" before walking out of the Cabinet Room.
The meeting lasted nearly two hours, beginning at 4:24 p.m. and ending at 6:16 p.m.
A senior Democratic aide close to the negotiations said that “Cantor’s account of tonight’s meeting is completely overblown,” and suggested Cantor is holding up progress in the negotiations.
“For someone who knows how to walk out of a meeting, you’d think he know it when he saw it. Cantor rudely interrupted the president three times to advocate for short-term debt ceiling increases while the president was wrapping the meeting,” the aide reported. “This is just more juvenile behavior from him and Boehner needs to rein him in and let the grown-ups get to work.”
UPDATE 10:24 p.m.:
Late Wednesday evening Cantor denied the charge that he interrupted the president three times during the meeting.
"I never interrupted the president, and in fact was deferential, seeking his permission to speak to him, Jack Lew or whomever. I made the point in my opening that they were walking back the spending cut number …that we were no where close," Cantor said. "At the end I said because we were no where close, I would walk back our position of no short term in order to reach agreement if the President would agree not to veto it."
Before walking out, Cantor said Obama told the leaders that the group will meet again Thursday to discuss the health care mandatories and also continue the discussion on the sequestration, the caps and the enforcement mechanisms.
“I know why he lost his temper. He’s frustrated. We’re all frustrated, but, again, I’m trying to represent where the votes are in the House, and we’ve always said, you know, the votes in the House are consistent with the principles that the speaker’s laid out that we’ve been operating on,” Cantor said. “It’s a dollar-for-dollar match, it is no tax increase, and it is … the enforcement mechanisms.”
“If we want to manage to actually begin to cut spending here and institute some reforms, this is the path that we can do it,” Cantor said. “I don’t want to see us rattle the markets.”