Uncertainty Abounds Around Debt Talks

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Hill leaders have been invited back to the White House for more talks on raising the debt ceiling and averting default on U.S. obligations.

SCOTT SIMON, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

A White House meeting between President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders has ended. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said the president told the group to come up with an agreement to raise the debt limit. Today's meeting comes after House speaker John Boehner bowed out of the private debt negotiations he'd been holding with the president. Very sharp disagreement between the two men about who's to blame for those talks breaking down. And there's much uncertainty about the path forward.

NPR's David Welna has this report.

DAVID WELNA: Already, yesterday morning, it seemed clear things were not going that well in the talks the president and speaker Boehner had restarted after Boehner broke them off two weeks ago. Speaking to reporters at the Capitol after meeting with fellow House Republicans, Boehner swatted down reports the two men were close to a deal.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER: There was no agreement publicly, privately, never an agreement. And, frankly, not close to an agreement. And so I would just suggest that it's going to be a hot weekend here in Washington, D.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WELNA: And it is indeed hot here this weekend; the rhetoric matching triple-digit temperatures. Last night after the markets had closed, President Obama summoned reporters to the White House Briefing Room.

President BARACK OBAMA: I just got a call about a half hour ago from speaker Boehner, who indicated that he was going to be walking away from the negotiations that we've been engaged in here at the White House for a big deficit reduction and debt reduction package.

WELNA: The president then described the deal he'd offered Boehner. It included more than $3 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade, along with $1.2 trillion in new tax revenues to narrow deficits.

President OBAMA: This was an extraordinarily fair deal. If it was unbalanced, it was unbalanced in the direction of not enough revenue.

WELNA: Speaker Boehner, the president suggested, was out of touch not only with the American public but with many in his own party.

President OBAMA: It is hard to understand why speaker Boehner would walk away from this kind of deal. And, frankly, if you look at the commentary out there, there are a lot of Republicans that are puzzled as to why it couldn't get done.

WELNA: The president clearly was angry. He accused the Republican-run House of being unable to make any compromises with what he called their ideological preferences.

President OBAMA: And the American people, I think, are fed up with political posturing and an inability for politicians to take responsible actions, as opposed to dodge their responsibilities.

WELNA: The response came an hour later from Capitol Hill.

BOEHNER: Dealing with the White House is like dealing with a bowl of Jell-O.

WELNA: It was speaker Boehner, and he took issue with the president's contention that two had been discussing $1.2 trillion in tax revenues.

BOEHNER: There was an agreement with the White House at $800 billion in revenue. It's the president who walked away from his agreement and demanded more money at the last minute.

WELNA: Boehner said his intention now was to hold talks only with his fellow congressional leaders.

BOEHNER: And I have confidence in the bipartisan leaders of the Congress that can come together and to ensure that we have an agreement that will allow the country to avoid default, and meets the principles that we have outlined - spending cuts that must be greater than the increase in the debt limit and no tax increases.

WELNA: A dollar in spending cuts for every dollar increase in the debt limit, and no tax hikes, is exactly what Boehner and his fellow Republicans have been holding out for, as the peril of default draws closer.

Boehner said last night he was convinced there won't be a debt default. He did not say why.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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