The White House and a group of eight Republican senators have been unable to find agreement in their attempts at reaching a bipartisan budget deal, separated by differences over whether to only reduce spending on large benefit programs or whether to combine those cuts with increased tax revenue.
Following a meeting Thursday in the White House, one of the Republicans, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, said the talks had gone nowhere.
“It’s pretty evident that there’s no common ground right now,” Corker said.
The White House described the talks as candid and helpful. Obama has insisted in the past that a big deal over the budget had to include closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy.
The eight senators, a cross-section of Senate Republicans, are Corker, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, John McCain of Arizona, Dan Coats of Indiana, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John Hoeven of North Dakota and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
The senators, some participating by teleconference, met in the White House Situation Room with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors and budget director Sylvia Mathews Burwell. The group last met at the White House four weeks ago.
At the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting, no future meeting was scheduled.
The setback comes just ahead of negotiations designed to avoid a government shutdown after the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 and about six weeks before the administration says the government will hit its borrowing limit.
Both the White House and congressional Republicans are bracing themselves for a confrontation. While both sides believe they might avoid a government shutdown with a stopgap measure in September, neither side has yet figured out how to extend the debt ceiling after it hits the $16.7 trillion limit.
Obama has said he will not negotiate over the debt ceiling, arguing that brinkmanship over raising it in 2011 harmed the economy. House Speaker John Boehner, however, is under pressure to use the debt ceiling as an opportunity to get reductions in entitlement programs and even to delay enactment of Obama’s health care law.
“It may be unfair, but what I’m trying to do here is to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices,” Boehner said at a fundraiser in Idaho this week. “We’re going to have a whale of a fight.”
The talks between the White House and the group of Republicans were not necessarily meant to resolve those coming entanglements. Indeed, from the beginning the talks were based more on hope than pragmatism. Both sides came to recognize that a deal between the White House and a small group of Senate Republicans would do little to sway the Republican majority in the House.
The senators were among a group who had dinner with Obama during a spring get-to-know-you effort by the president that was designed to break down partisan barriers and lay the foundation for potential agreements.
But the budget talks have always split over Obama’s insistence that any reduction in programs such as Social Security or Medicare be accompanied by tax increases or closed loopholes for the rich that would generate more revenue.
Obama did win more than $600 billion in tax increases over 10 years on wealthier taxpayers earlier this year and Republicans have said they would not cede more.
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