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Obama’s flattery of Boehner goes nowhere

Calls for increase in taxes prove sticking point

Flattering House Speaker John A. Boehner publicly, President Obama on Monday tried to reel in the reluctant Republican House leader to support the president's goal of a large tax increase to help reduce deficits.

"I think Speaker Boehner has been very sincere about trying to do something big," Mr. Obama said at a news conference, just before resuming debt talks with Mr. Boehner and other congressional leaders. "I think he's a good man who wants to do right by the country."

But Mr. Boehner sounded Monday like a man who wasn't about to be wooed anymore.

"Our disagreements are not personal and never have been," Mr. Boehner told reporters. "This boils down to two things. The president continues to insist on raising taxes, and [Democrats] are just not serious enough about fundamental entitlement reform to solve the problem. It takes two to tango, and they're not there yet."

Someone who knows Mr. Boehner well, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, said it's "absurd" for the president to think the speaker will persuade his Republican troops to accept a large tax increase.

"It's hard to fathom, that somehow John Boehner is going to abandon decades of opposition to tax increases in exchange for a pat on the head from Barack Obama," Mr. Gillespie said. "I think [Mr. Obama] is posturing, and it's not going to work. He's desperate."

Mr. Obama has worked on a behind-the-scenes alliance with the speaker for months as both sides negotiate an increase in the nation's debt limit of $14.29 trillion by a deadline of Aug. 2. But Mr. Boehner split publicly from the president Saturday, when he announced he would not agree to a related target of $4 trillion in deficit reduction if it contained Mr. Obama's proposal for $1 trillion or more in tax increases. He said he favors a plan instead to reduce deficits by about $2 trillion over 10 years through spending cuts.

The president Monday renewed his push for the $4 trillion proposal, and his public comments show he thinks success or failure hinges on Mr. Boehner's cooperation. He described the speaker as a reasonable statesman who, like himself, is trying to corral the more rebellious, partisan elements in his party.

"The politics that swept him into the speakership were good for a midterm election; they're tough for governing," Mr. Obama said. He added that what House Republicans need "to recognize is that American democracy works when people listen to each other."

"I think that there are members of that caucus who haven't fully arrived at that realization yet," the president said.

Mr. Gillespie said the president's effort to separate Mr. Boehner from conservative House Republicans won't work.

"This notion that there's daylight between Boehner and the majority of his colleagues is disingenuous at best on the part of Obama," he said.

Regardless, the president held his second televised news conference in two weeks Monday to pressure congressional Republicans to accept a deal that includes tax increases. Mr. Obama said he would veto any short-term pact to raise the debt ceiling, arguing that an agreement must cover government borrowing through the November 2012 elections.

"I will not sign a 30-day, or a 60-day, or a 90-day extension," Mr. Obama said. "This is the United States of America. We don't manage our affairs in three-month increments."

The president said the negotiations would only get more difficult in the midst of a national election.

"If we think it's hard now, imagine how these guys [lawmakers] are going to be thinking six months from now," Mr. Obama said. "We might as well do it now. Pull off the Band-Aid. Eat our peas. Now is the time to do it. If not now, when?"

Mr. Obama suggested Republicans' concerns about taxes are overblown because proposals to close corporate tax loopholes and raise rates on wealthier families wouldn't take effect until 2013.

"Nobody has talked about increasing taxes now," the president said. "Nobody has talked about increasing taxes next year. We're talking about, potentially, 2013 and the out years."

While Republicans are fairly united in opposition to tax increases, Democrats reacted with hostility to the president's willingness to include spending reductions on entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare as part of any deal. On Monday morning, Mr. Obama spoke for the first time of "trimming benefits" for seniors to make those programs sustainable for a longer period.

"We're going to have a sales job," the president said. "This is not pleasant. This is hard to persuade people to do hard stuff that entails trimming benefits and increasing revenues."

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