WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) met for nearly an hour on Thursday evening in their latest attempt to break the impasse on impending tax hikes and spending cuts. True to form, neither said much of anything about what was discussed.
Shortly after the meeting ended, both camps put out identical, banal statements.
"The President and Speaker had a frank meeting in the Oval Office tonight," said the statements. "It lasted approximately 50 minutes. There will be no further readout of the meeting, but lines of communication remain open."
Boehner was back at the Capitol soon afterward, but said nothing new as he passed reporters eager for a readout. “Nice to see all of you,” he said as he kept walking, CNN’s Deirdre Walsh tweeted. Boehner is heading back to Ohio for the weekend.
A handful of others attended the meeting. Timothy Geithner, the treasury secretary, and Rob Nabors, director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, joined Obama, a White House aide confirmed. Boehner’s chief of staff, Mike Sommers, and his policy director, Brett Loper, were also in attendance.
Thursday night’s meeting marks the second time in a week the president and House speaker have met in person, and comes after at least two phone calls in recent days.
The continued dialogue provides some rays of hope to a negotiating process that, in recent days, has shown very little progress. Boehner has refused to budge from his refusal to consider raising tax rates on top earners while arguing that heavy spending cuts are needed. The White House, in contrast, has accused House Republican leadership of being deliberately vague on cuts, while insisting that no deal will end up getting the president's signature without a raising of tax rates.
With the year-end deadline for all rates to expire and $1 trillion in spending cuts to kick in, the prospect of actually failing to find agreement is coming into focus. A top Senate Democratic aide told the Huffington Post on Thursday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told his caucus that finalizing a deal by Christmas was now basically impossible.
Boehner, meanwhile, told lawmakers earlier Thursday not to make plans for Christmas, signaling that there may not realistically be a final deal until the very end of the month. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney wouldn’t say whether Obama is also bracing for dragged out negotiations
“I can't speculate about the time frame,” Carney said at his daily briefing. “What the president is interested in is working with Congress to achieve a deal that avoids the fiscal cliff and, beyond that, addresses our long-term fiscal challenges in a balanced way. He wants to makes sure, first and foremost, that the middle class does not have their taxes go up on January 1st."