At the White House on Wednesday, a handful of notions drifted out into the wilting humidity, along with busloads of House Republicans who departed the East Room after a morning meeting with President Obama to discuss deficits and debt.
The lawmakers appeared in no rush to flee as they filed out of the mansion. They walked slowly down the driveway, searching for shade and joking to sweating reporters that they'd enjoyed the "frosty" air indoors. They had just spent 75 minutes squeezed into rows of gilt chairs, facing a head table lined with faces that looked uncomfortably like families at a shotgun wedding.
Obama, seated in the center with a pencil and some notes in front of him, did most of the talking. The House leaders sat to his right. The president's advisers, including Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, sat to his left. The president restated his ideas about investing in domestic programs while lowering deficits, without upending Medicare now or later. When Obama paused to listen to his guests, hisexpression was stern, and he gripped his chin in his fist.
Not a thing was decided.
A separate process of quiet bipartisan budget negotiations continues under Vice President Joe Biden and involving House and Senate lawmakers. The president said the Biden talks have the best chance of producing compromises that will ease GOP resistance to raising the $14.3 trillion ceiling on federal borrowing authority by August. Republicans did not disagree. The Biden talks are to resume June 9 on Capitol Hill, the White House said.
Thanks to notes of the East Room session shared with RCP by Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, and the smart-phone camera skills of executive-branch watchdog Rep. Darrell Issa of California (distribution via Twitter), a rough account of the meeting emerged in short order.
The two sides indicated the following: First, it promises to be a long, hot summer before budget stalemates ease into solid compromises. Second, both sides thought it was useful for Americans to see them getting together. Third, the White House and the Republican majority in the House agree they expect to hike the nation's borrowing authority -- which will be necessary -- before an August deadline. In other words, they plan to agree. And fourth, all sides are worried about bolstering a weak economy and creating more jobs.
Policy agreements? None.
"Primarily, the president spent his time justifying his positions," said Bachmann, who consulted her notes on Obama's remarks, which she'd written with a red pen while sitting with her colleagues. Bachmann plans to announce from her birthplace in Waterloo, Iowa, this month whether she'll challenge Obama for the presidency, as her tea party supporters are urging her to do.
"He was asked directly if he would be putting together a Medicare plan," she continued in an interview. "We said we would not be negotiating with ourselves. We've put a plan out that's score-able. The president was asked directly, ‘Will you have a plan that can be scored by the Congressional Budget Office?' The president is not planning to do that. He is not."