Obama, Boehner talked debt in secret meeting

FTN - Barack Obama and John Boehner CBS/AP

Barack Obama and John Boehner

For weeks Republicans have been calling on President Obama to become directly involved in the debt reduction talks. On Thursday, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell scolded the President on the Senate floor, saying, "He's the one in charge, I think most Americans think it's time he started acting like it."

Well, it appears the president did start acting like it -- behind the scenes -- even before McConnell spoke.

Early Wednesday evening Speaker John Boehner met with the President in the Oval Office. The get-together was supposed to be a secret. When it leaked, White House spokesman Jay Carney refused to give any hint of what they talked about, other than to say they were "following up on conversations they had on the golf course" last Saturday.

But sources now tell CBS News what everyone suspected: that the president and Boehner discussed the debt talks on Wednesday. And since that conversation was "following up" on their recent Golf Course summit, it stands to reason that they've now been talking about the debt issue for a week.

Despite the talk, though, neither man has -- publicly, at least -- given an inch on the most contentious issue: taxes.

In a statement on Friday, Boehner again ruled out tax increases as part of a deal.

And the White House is no less unbending. In a press gaggle on Air Force One Friday, Carney repeated the White House mantra of "a balanced approach." Translation: the White House will agree to a deal only if it includes new revenues, by eliminating tax loopholes that benefit wealthy Americans and certain unpopular business interests, like the oil and gas industry.

On Monday, the president will again push for that "balanced approach" in an Oval Office meeting with McConnell. Good luck with that: In a press release Friday, McConnell said he wants the president to tell him that tax hikes are off the table.

And the uncompromising positions aren't the only barriers to getting a deal any time soon. There's also the absence of a sense of urgency. The Biden talks are now "in abeyance" after the Republicans pulled out, and Boehner's office says he's leaving town -- for an 11-day House recess.

And these deals don't get completed by phone. So you can forget about those wildly optimistic deadlines of June 30 or July 4.

So when might the pressure reach critical mass? If history is any guide, they won't strike a deal until the last minute. So when is that? Technically it's August 2, when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says the money will run out and the debt ceiling must be raised.

But this negotiation may be different from the usual cliffhanger, because of fears that if it even gets CLOSE to August 2 the markets will get rattled, leading to all manner of economic calamity.

So the REAL deadline is impossible to predict. It's whenever the markets start to show signs of severe nervousness. That's when the politicians will show signs of severe nervousness. And only then are they likely to act.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.

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