At a breakfast meeting with television reporters and anchors this morning, House Speaker John Boehner said he doubted President Obama would deliver substantive policy prescriptions to jumpstart the sluggish economy and deal with a looming debt crisis in his State of the Union address tonight.
"I'm not real optimistic that the president will address those subjects in a way that the American people expect him to address them...but hope remains eternal," Boehner said.
The 22-year House veteran argued the president understands the nation's debt problem but lacks the will to tackle it.
"The biggest challenge in dealing with the president is that he never had the courage to take on his own party when it came to the kind of entitlement changes that need to occur," he said. Returning to the topic later in the conversation, Boehner added, "I think he'd like to deal with it. But to do the heavy lifting that needs to be done, I don't think he's got the guts to go do it."
Boehner used to insist that he and Mr. Obama were personally quite friendly, but over the past year he has grown increasingly comfortable criticizing the president's leadership style and priorities. Asked about bipartisan immigration reform legislation being crafted in the House and Senate, Boehner said, "The thing I'm most concerned about with immigration reform is the president getting in the way. Sometimes I think he'd rather have an issue than a solution."
In fact, after several failed negotiations, Boehner said he will no longer seek closed-door agreements with Mr. Obama.
"I've tried nonstop over the past two years working with the president, working with the president, working with the president. Never got there....every time, I got burned," he said. "The president doesn't believe we have a spending problem. He said it to me directly. He says we have a health care problem."
Boehner said the last time he spoke with the president was when the two men exchanged pleasantries at Mr. Obama's swearing in last month. Prior to that, he said, they had spoken on the phone before Christmas, approximately two weeks before congressional leaders and the White House arrived at a last minute deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" - a deal that was negotiated at the end by Vice President Joe Biden and Boehner's Republican counterpart in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.