WASHINGTON — Democratic and Republican lawmakers apparently left a closed-door meeting Thursday with Vice President Joe Biden on budgets, deficits and debt the same way they walked in: deeply divided on tax policy.
Biden presided at the meeting of two Republican and four Democratic lawmakers across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House at Blair House. It wasn't expected to produce immediate results , and it didn't.
Both sides agreed on the need to find common ground to improve the nation's fiscal condition and to reach consensus on how to raise the nation's debt limit of $14.3 trillion. If they don't reach a deal before Aug. 2, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said the government may go into default, which could panic global financial markets and put the still-fragile economy at risk.
But the negotiators differed dramatically on how to do it. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said any plan that contained tax increases would go nowhere in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
"The House has taken a firm position against anything having to do with increasing taxes or tax rates," Cantor said after the two-hour meeting. "We are not interested in having any discussion about tax increases. I said that."
Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the House Budget Committee's ranking Democrat, said that any credible discussion must include raising tax revenue and eliminating some corporate tax breaks.
"You have to look at both revenue, getting rid of some of the big tax breaks for the oil companies," Van Hollen told Bloomberg TV before the meeting. "I mean, come on. Profits are going through the roof — they don't need taxpayer giveaways."
House Republicans also appear to disagree among themselves over whether to proceed with their plan to dramatically revamp Medicare, a major component of the GOP budget plan the House approved last month with no Democratic votes. That plan would privatize Medicare and give federal subsidies for insurance, a proposal opposed by the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House.
Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, told a health forum in Washington Thursday that he's in no hurry to draft the Medicare proposal into formal legislation.
After the meeting, Biden issued a two-sentence statement proclaiming the session "a good, productive first meeting" and said the group would meet again Tuesday.