In their public comments, neither the president nor the lawmakers dwelt on long-standing differences that doomed previous deficit negotiations. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell came closest, telling reporters that while Republicans are willing to discuss increased revenue, most members of his party "believe we are in the dilemma we are in not because we tax too little but because we spend too much."
After the meeting, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, "Both sides agreed that while there may be differences in our preferred approaches, we will continue a constructive process to find a solution and come to a conclusion as soon as possible."
For all the expressions of optimism, it was unclear whether the Nov. 6 elections and the prospect of the so-called fiscal cliff would serve as a strong enough catalyst for these talks to succeed where other recent attempts have failed.
Obama ran for a new term calling for a "balanced approach" to deficit reduction that includes raising taxes on income over $200,000 a year for individuals and $250,000 for couples. And while the president has stated a willingness to pull federal savings out of benefit programs including Medicare and Medicaid, Democratic leaders have been reluctant to go along.Raising taxes has long been anathema to Republicans, who say government's spending must be cut to reduce deficits and taxes reduced to stimulate job creation in an economy where unemployment is 7.9 percent. Boehner told reporters after Friday's meeting that he had outlined a framework for negotiations that "is consistent with the president's call for a fair and balanced approach." He did not provide details, except to say it "deals with reforming our tax code and reforming our spending," a reference to benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. An aide said Boehner's approach calls for agreement on long-term revenue and spending targets to be set into law, presumably this year, leaving details to 2013 on an overhaul of the tax code and remaking benefit programs.