- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2012

President Obama summoned House Speaker John A. Boehner to an evening meeting at the White House on Thursday as the two tried to jump-start budget talks that had idled while both sides struggled to gain political advantage.

Neither Mr. Boehner nor Mr. Obama spoke to reporters after the hastily arranged meeting, which lasted 50 minutes. An aide to Mr. Boehner described it as a “frank” talk but said the “lines of communication remain open.”

The meeting comes with less than three weeks to go before the tax increases and automatic spending cuts that are looming at the beginning of next year. It was announced just hours after Mr. Boehner accused the president of endangering the economy and slow-walking discussions by not offering spending cuts.

“It’s clear the president is just not serious about cutting spending. But spending is the problem,” the speaker told reporters in the morning.

Soon afterward, Mr. Obama, strolling from the White House to adjacent Blair House to attend a holiday party at lunchtime, told reporters that the talks are “still a work in progress.”

When a journalist told the president that Mr. Boehner was waiting to hear from him, Mr. Obama smiled and called out, “Merry Christmas.”

As prospects for reaching a deal before Christmas dimmed, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, warned lawmakers to prepare to work over the holidays.

The White House and Congressional Republicans are working to avoid the “fiscal cliff” — a combination of tax hikes and about $110 billion in mandatory spending cuts — that will take effect early next year absent action from Congress.

The White House insists on raising income tax rates to produce new revenue, while the GOP says it wants to cut spending, including in entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare.

Another roadblock to a deal emerged Thursday when two top Democratic leaders in Congress said that raising the Medicare eligibility age is off the table in ongoing budget talks — and that the White House agrees with them.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, told reporters that raising the eligibility age from 65 is “no longer one of the items being considered by the White House.” That came just minutes after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also had rejected raising the age, and said Mr. Obama “shares our values” on that question.

“As I have said, don’t even think about raising the Medicare age,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “We are not throwing America’s seniors over the cliff to give a tax cut to the wealthiest people in America. We have clarity on that. But again, on all these other things, go to the table and negotiate.”

Many Republicans had advocated the move as a way to help curb entitlement spending and reduce the country’s long-term debt, and the matter reportedly had been a topic of conversation between Mr. Boehner and Mr. Obama during their deficit-reduction talks last year.

In a recent interview with ABC News, Mr. Obama acknowledged that raising the eligibility age is “something that’s been floated.”

Mrs. Pelosi on Thursday argued that Democrats already have found $700 billion in savings for the program in Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul and that the president has an additional several hundred billion dollars of savings in his budget, “which we fully support.”

“The president knows our views, shares our values,” she said. “We respect his leadership. And the speaker may need our votes to go forward. So I’m confident about how the president is leading.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.