With the tone of fiscal talks becoming more rancorous by the day, US House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama had another meeting at the White House late Thursday afternoon to see if they could make some headway.
“We’re doing great,” Boehner said later Thursday night after an appointment at the Capitol, but there was no indication that the two sides were any closer to a deal.
“The president and speaker had a frank meeting in the oval office tonight,” the White House said in a statement released after the 50-minute meeting. “Lines of communication remain open.”
Obama, for his part, told a Minnesota TV station, “I remain hopeful that we can get this resolved. It shouldn’t be hard to get resolved.”
The late-scheduled meeting came after Boehner declared that talks over the looming fiscal crisis have failed to produce a deal because Obama will not get “serious” about spending cuts. Boehner, meanwhile, plans to head home to Ohio on Friday, though his office made clear the president can still reach him.
In a fresh bid to energize support for major entitlement cuts as part of any agreement, Boehner earlier in the day rolled out a chart that showed federal spending skyrocketing between now and 2041 — to 40 percent of the nation’s total economy.
The chart showed that revenue from Obama’s push to increase taxes on the top 2 percent will only fill in a sliver of that amount.
“If you look at the spending problem, you see (the additional tax revenue) does nothing,” Boehner said. “The president wants to pretend that spending isn’t the problem. That’s why we don’t have an agreement.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, though, said Thursday that Republicans’ resistance to tax hikes on top earners is what’s holding up an agreement.
Carney also used some tough language in reference to the speaker — saying that while he’s personally “very fond” of Boehner, “his record of predicting what would happen if certain policies, economic policies were instituted, is abysmal.” Carney pointed to the deficits and allegedly “anemic” growth that followed the Bush-era tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.
The comments come amid increased pessimism on Capitol Hill about the prospects for a deal any time soon. Lawmakers are at loggerheads over whether to raise taxes on the top 2 percent — but also Obama’s call for unilateral power to increase the debt ceiling, and more stimulus spending.
Obama on Thursday called the negotiations a “work in progress.”
But a senior Democrat told Fox News that at a private dinner Wednesday night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid confided to colleagues he now believes getting a deal by Christmas is almost impossible. In private, Reid suggested going off the so-called fiscal cliff is a real possibility — but thinks a more likely scenario is that the House ends up passing the Senate bill to only extend rates for households making less than $250,000. From there, both chambers would return in January to fight over spending cuts.
The latest Fox News poll shows 61 percent of voters say major spending cuts are necessary to reduce the deficit.
House Republican Leader Eric Cantor is vowing that he and fellow Republicans will work through the holidays to reach a deal to avoid a roughly $500 billion mix of automatic tax increases and federal spending cuts that start on Jan. 1.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, though, said Thursday that leaders would need to reach a deal “in the next couple of days” or by the beginning of next week at the latest, considering the amount of time it takes to craft the legislation and bring it to the floors of both chambers.
“We’re coming down to the wire. It’s a matter of days,” she said.
The Democrats’ and Republicans’ remarks dampened the recent optimism in Washington that was created by a flurry of exchanges earlier this week between Boehner and President Obama — a meeting Sunday, an Obama offer Monday, and Boehner’s counter-offer Tuesday that was followed by another phone conversation.
Boehner refusal Tuesday night to talk about his counter-offer and the most recent phone call suggested a deal was within striking range, perhaps too delicate to fight over in public.
However, Boehner on Wednesday described the conversation as “deliberate” and focused on the divide they face.
Boehner also said the president’s most recent offer still has “too many taxes” and could pass in neither the House nor the Senate.
“The longer the White House slow-walks this, the closer we get to a fiscal cliff,” Boehner said after meeting with members of his leadership team. “I am the most optimistic person in town, but we have some differences.”
Pelosi within hours put the blame on Boehner, insisting he make House Republicans vote on what Obama has already offered, and some of his party members appear willing to accept a compromise to help avert the fiscal crisis by extending tax cuts to 98 percent of income earners.
“Figure it out. We did,” said Pelosi, referring to when she was House speaker and forced a full vote on funding the Iraq War. “Then go forward and debate the issue. … What are we waiting for? Is there a dove going to fly in with a message tied to his leg?”