WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that he would reconvene debt talks with congressional leadership on Sunday, admitting that the two sides remained "far apart on a wide range of issues."
With the debt-ceiling deadline of August 2 looming, Obama met with those same lawmakers prior to making his brief remarks before the White House press corps. The president said that lawmakers understood the importance of completing negotiations promptly. He also praised them for demonstrating a "spirit of compromise" and for "wanting to solve problems on behalf of the American people."
Beneath the platitudes, however, it was evident that major hurdles remain. Obama even acknowledged that the "hard bargaining" had not yet begun.
"Staffs as well as leadership will be working during the weekend," Obama said. "I will reconvene congressional leaders here on Sunday, with the expectation that at that point the parties will at least know where each other's bottom lines are."
This weekend the group "will hopefully be in a position to then start engaging in the hard bargaining necessary to get a deal done," he continued.
Reports, indeed, suggest that negotiations had yet to yield detailed outcomes. The Washington Post reported Wednesday night that the White House was willing to embrace cuts to Social Security as part of a larger bargain on raising the debt ceiling. But administration officials insisted that nothing was new in their approach, the HuffPost reported Thursday morning.
"This story is really not news at all," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at the briefing after Obama left.
"In fact, it essentially was written when the president delivered the State of the Union address. The president talked about being open to things to strengthen Social Security," Carney said, emphasizing that those things do not include slashing benefits.
The New York Times reported Wednesday night that GOP leadership was willing to sign off on, potentially, $1 trillion in additional tax revenues. An aide subsequently clarified that no such agreement was final and said that letting the bush tax cuts expire was firmly off the table.
On Thursday morning, the National Journal reported that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had pegged the chances of getting a deal done within the next two days at 50-50. But the fact that lawmakers and aides are not set to meet again in the next three days suggests that wager was overly optimistic. Even Obama seemed eager to tamp down expectations. "Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to," he said.
With Reporting By Jen Bendery