President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) met Sunday afternoon at the White House to continue discussions over how to avert the “fiscal cliff,” their first in-person gathering in nearly a month as the deadline to avert a massive tax hike is fast approaching.
Aides to Boehner confirmed the meeting took place, but declined to provide further details. “We’re not reading out details of the conversation, but the lines of communication remain open,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.
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“We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us,” the president said.
The face-to-face meeting follows a phone call between the president and speaker Wednesday, but also comes after Boehner said bluntly Friday that no progress had been made on the issue. The president and congressional leaders have been trying to reach a deal to avert more than $500 billion in tax increases and automatic spending cuts slated to take effect Jan. 1, after a series of previous compromises in tax and debt legislation in 2010 and 2011 set up this collection of deadlines for expiring legislation all at the same time.
The Boehner-Obama meeting was the first time they have met in person since mid-November, a huddle that included other congressional leaders and seemed to set a positive tone for the talks. Since then, however, talks have stalled over Obama’s insistence that the first step toward a deal be Republicans agreeing to higher tax rates on the rich, and Republicans’ demand that Obama yield to their demand for steep cuts to expensive entitlement programs.
Sunday also marked the first time the speaker has met privately with Obama on his own, without any other congressional leaders present, since the duo’s failed effort to reach a grand bargain debt deal in July 2011.
White House aides noted that the Boehner meeting Sunday followed similar meetings Obama held last week separately with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), whom he talked to by phone.