WASHINGTON -- Courting confrontation and compromise alike Monday, House Republicans shrugged off President Barack Obama's threat to veto their legislation to cut federal spending by trillions of dollars, even as they negotiated with him over more modest steps to avert a potential government default.
The Republican bill demands deep spending reductions in exchange for raising the nation's debt limit. But Obama will veto it if it reaches his desk, the White House said, asserting the legislation would "lead to severe cuts in Medicare and Social Security" and impose unrealistic limits on education spending.
In response, GOP lawmakers said they would go ahead with plans to pass the bill today. "It's disappointing the White House would reject this commonsense plan to rein in the debt and deficits that are hurting job creation in America," Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said.
By contrast, neither the administration nor congressional officials provided substantive details on an unannounced meeting that Obama held Sunday with the two top House Republican leaders, Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.
Obama said late yesterday the two sides were "making progress."
Barring action by Congress to raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit, the Treasury will be unable to pay all the government's bills that come due beginning on Aug. 3, two weeks from Wednesday. Administration officials, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke and others say the result could be a default that inflicts serious harm on the economy, which is still struggling to recover from the worst recession in decades.
The two-pronged approach pursued by the House GOP follows the collapse of a weeks-long effort to negotiate a sweeping bipartisan plan to cut into future deficits. The endeavor foundered when Obama demanded that tax increases on the wealthy and selected corporations be included alongside cuts in benefit programs, and Republicans refused.
The failure of that effort also reflects the outsize influence exerted by 87 first-term Republicans, many of them elected last fall with tea party backing.
Several Republicans say privately the decision to vote on veto-threatened legislation is paradoxically designed to clear the way for a compromise by giving conservatives a chance to push deep spending cuts through the House and then demonstrating the same measure will die in the Democratic Senate or be vetoed by the president.
As late as last Thursday, Republican leaders held a news conference to tout plans to vote this week on a proposed balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
But the same senior Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting of the rank and file on Friday to say the House would instead vote on an alternative -- dubbed by its advocates "Cut, Cap and Balance." No date has been set for a vote on the constitutional amendment itself.