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After More Than A Year, Obama And Boehner Sit Down Just To Talk


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

It's a sign of deeply partisan times when a Democratic president and a Republican House speaker make headlines just by sitting down and talking to each other. That's what happened today in a rare hour-long meeting that aides call constructive. How constructive is not exactly clear. And while the president and House speaker agreed to work together in areas where there's common ground, that appears to be very small territory.

NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley joins me now. And, Scott, this was the first advertised one-on-one meeting between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner in 14 months. What took them so long?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, you can ask what too so long, or you could just as easily ask why they bothered to meet today. Most of their earlier meetings have come when there was some sort of fiscal deadline looming. But today, there's no such forcing mechanism. We're not looking at a government shutdown or a breach of the debt limit. And what's more, for the past few weeks, the president has been largely ignoring lawmakers, trying to do what he can through executive action. Nevertheless, White House spokesman Jay Carney said this afternoon the president is not giving up on Congress.

JAY CARNEY: We're going to continue to engage with Congress, with Republicans in an effort to see where we can find common ground and move the ball forward for the American people. Where Congress refuses to act, the president is going to use every authority available to him to advance an agenda that expands opportunity and rewards hard work.

HORSLEY: And while this was the first time in over a year that a meeting like this showed up on the president's schedule, the White House hints there might have been conversations and meetings that weren't made public. Certainly, Obama and Boehner have been together as part of bigger negotiations, for example, during last fall's government shutdown.

BLOCK: So what did President Obama and Speaker Boehner talk about? And did they end up finding any of that common ground that Jay Carney was talking about?

HORSLEY: Well, they covered a lot of ground, I'm not sure how much of it was common. According to the speaker's office, they talked about trade, immigration, drought relief, and the president's health care law, among other things. Now, Republicans are actually more supportive of the president's trade agenda than a lot of Democrats are. But otherwise, there's not a lot of room where you can see agreement here. Immigration looks to be stalled in the Republican House.

On the drought, which is certainly affecting both Republicans and Democrats out West, the two parties have very different ideas about how to deal with it. Obama has threatened to veto the House Republican plan. And, of course, health care remains the big divide. Barely an hour after leaving the Oval Office, Speaker Boehner was on the House floor denouncing Obamacare, saying it would drive up insurance premiums for small businesses.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Another sucker punch to our economy, another broken promise to hardworking Americans. That's why the House continues to focus on stopping government abuse and promoting better solutions for middle-class families and small businesses.

HORSLEY: So just in case you thought they were going to be making nice, think again. As Jay Carney said, it was just a meeting.

BLOCK: Just a meeting. Well, Scott, next week, the president is going to release his budget proposal. And I gather the White House has already telegraphed that it is not going to include the olive branch to Republicans that the president offered last year on entitlement programs such as Social Security.

HORSLEY: That's right. Last year, the White House budget included a proposal to change the way the government makes cost of living adjustments in Social Security and lots of other programs.

BLOCK: Wa this chained CPI we're talking about again?

HORSLEY: That's right.


HORSLEY: And, you know, it would have both reduced government spending and also boosted revenue. A lot of Democrats hated the idea. But it was designed as a way to reach out to Republicans, bring them to the negotiating table in hopes of striking a grand budget bargain. And this was coupled with a White House charm offensive, lots of dinners and coffees. But the president wanted to see additional revenue as well, and that was a deal breaker for the GOP. So it wound up going nowhere. And this year's budget includes no such olive branch. It's going to be instead a much more partisan Democratic budget.

BLOCK: OK. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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