Obama, Boehner meet, no progress reported

House Speaker John A. Boehner accused President Obama of not being serious about cutting spending on Thursday.
J. Scott Applewhite /Associated Press
House Speaker John A. Boehner accused President Obama of not being serious about cutting spending on Thursday.

WASHINGTON — With time running short to work out a deal to avert a year-end fiscal crisis, President Obama called Speaker John A. Boehner to the White House on Thursday evening to try to move talks forward even as pessimism mounted that a broad deal could be struck that bridges the substantial gap between the parties on taxes and entitlements such as Medicare.

Obama and Boehner met for less than an hour, not an ­encouraging sign, with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner joining the talks.

Afterward, as they did following a Sunday meeting, White House and congressional aides issued nearly identical statements saying only that ‘‘the lines of communication remain open.’’


Before the meeting, a senior administration official struck a downbeat note, saying, ‘‘we are in the same place — Boehner has not given on revenue and has not identified any cuts that he wants in exchange for rates.’’

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‘‘They have only moved backwards since the beginning,’’ the official said of the ­Republicans.

According to another administration official, the White House hastily set up the meeting Thursday afternoon, hoping to prompt some progress before Boehner returned home to Ohio for the weekend.

Earlier in the day, Boehner dug in on demands that Obama lay out more concrete cuts to Medicare and other entitlements as the price for tax increases on the rich.

The speaker’s tone — and a hostile White House response — raised the level of pessimism that a wide-ranging agreement could be reached quickly to head off hundreds of billions of dollars in automatic tax increases and spending cuts beginning next month.


Adding to the growing sense that the two sides might not come together, rank-and-file Republicans said the leadership had not begun laying the groundwork for a major concession on taxes.

But Boehner did not rule out a vote on legislation before the end of the year to extend Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class — and in so doing allow tax cuts on incomes more than $250,000 to expire.

‘‘The law of the land today is that everyone’s income taxes are going to go up Jan. 1,’’ Boehner said. ‘‘I’ve made it clear that I think that’s unacceptable, but until we get this issue resolved, that risk remains.’’

Little more than two weeks remain before the nation goes over the so-called fiscal cliff, and neither Boehner nor Obama has budged from his core demands.

The president continues to insist on an immediate increase in the top two income tax rates as a condition for further negotiations on spending and entitlement changes.


If the speaker insists on further spending cuts, White House officials say, he must lay out his specific demands, something Boehner has so far declined to do.

Boehner has offered to raise his opening bid of $800 billion in increased tax revenue over 10 years, but only if the president makes a significant commitment to overhaul entitlements and slow their growth.

The White House’s opening bid committed to pressing changes next year to federal health care programs that would save $400 billion over 10 years.

The speaker wants a far larger pledge and a firm commitment that the president will put his political weight behind substantive changes to Medicare and the tax code.

The president, he said, ­appears intent on squandering ‘‘a golden opportunity to make 2013 the year that we enact fundamental tax reform and entitlement reform to begin to solve our country’s debt problem and, frankly, revenue problem.’’

But Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said the president was ‘‘willing to make tough choices on the spending side — to reduce our spending as part of a broad package that includes cuts in discretionary spending, savings from our entitlement programs and increased revenues that are borne by those in this country who can most afford it.’’

Even as Boehner pressed Obama to specify reductions in spending for Medicare and other entitlement programs, the Republicans continued to be mute on what reductions they favor.