WASHINGTON -- Face to face with time running short, President Barack Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner negotiated at the White House last night in what aides called "frank" talks aimed at breaking a stubborn deadlock and steering the nation away from an economy-threatening "fiscal cliff."
Boehner returned to the Capitol an hour later, briskly walking past reporters without comment. There was no indication whether any progress had been made.
The meeting came shortly after Obama suggested that the sluggish pace of deficit-cutting talks was a result of a "contentious caucus" of GOP lawmakers who were making it difficult for Boehner to negotiate.
Boehner saw it differently. He said earlier in the day: "Unfortunately, the White House is so unserious about cutting spending that it appears willing to slow-walk any agreement and walk our economy right up to the fiscal cliff."
Last night's meeting was their second face-to-face encounter in five days as they seek an agreement to avoid major tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to kick in on Jan. 1.
Before the meeting, Boehner accused Obama of dragging out negotiations. Obama is insisting on higher tax rates for household incomes above $250,000 to cut federal deficits; Boehner says he opposes higher rates, though he has said he would be willing to raise tax revenue instead by closing loopholes and deductions.
Obama, in an interview Thursday with WCCO-TV in Minneapolis, said that he was hopeful of a "change in attitude" from Republicans on raising taxes on the wealthy. "It shouldn't be hard to get resolved," he said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Dick Durbin said that an increase in the Medicare eligibility age is "no longer one of the items being considered by the White House" in negotiations.
And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warned that raising the Medicare eligibility age wouldn't contribute much in savings in the short term.
Increasing the eligibility age has been a key demand by Republicans seeking cost curbs in benefit programs in exchange for higher tax revenues.