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Obama, Congressional Leaders Begin Meeting Far Apart

President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders each attempted to position themselves as holding the higher ground Monday, but their dueling press conferences only revealed that both sides are as far apart as ever on a debt and deficit reduction deal.

Obama and the top eight members of Congress have committed to meet every day until they reach an agreement on a package to cut trillions of dollars from the federal debt in advance of an Aug. 2 deadline to raise the government’s borrowing capacity.

But both sides continue to dig in on their demands. Republicans continue to insist that any deal that includes tax increases will not garner votes from their Members. Democrats are wary of entitlement reform that unduly affects beneficiaries.

And the president on Monday tried yet again to position himself above the Congressional fray, projecting an image of the “adult in the room” and saying it’s time to “eat our peas” and come to a compromise to avoid a default. He stood firm on his commitment to not sign any debt and deficit deal unless it extended past the 2012 elections.

“If we think it’s hard now, imagine how these guys are going to be thinking six months from now in the middle of election season where they’re all up. It’s not going to get easier,” Obama said in his third public statements since Thursday. “It’s going to get harder. So we might as well do it now — pull off the Band-Aid; eat our peas.”

Obama offered a pointed attack on both Congressional Democrats and rank-and-file Republicans for their intransigence, while offering Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) support for his willingness to negotiate. Obama’s comments came despite the fact that the Republican leader on Saturday evening suddenly backed away from a far-reaching $4 trillion plan that the president says he still wants.

Boehner called an impromptu press conference two and a half hours after the president’s speech, an hour after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) media availability and minutes before he was due at the White House for Monday’s meeting.

“Our disagreements are not personal, they never have been. The gulf between the two parties now is about policy. It’s not about process. It’s not about personalities,” Boehner said. “The president and I do not agree on his view that the government needs more revenues through taxes on job creators. The president and I also disagree on the extent of the entitlement problem and what is necessary in order to solve it.”

The president, however, did not appear to see it the same way, with Obama saying he wanted to be “crystal clear” that “nobody has talked about increasing taxes now” and that any reforms to “egregious loopholes” would take effect in 2013.

He added: “In fact, the only proposition that’s out there about raising taxes next year would be if we don’t renew the payroll tax cut that we passed in December, and I’m in favor of renewing it for next year, as well. But there have been some Republicans who said we may not renew it.”

Sources close to the leaders meeting Monday at the White House say that the conversation was expected to focus on the savings found in the now-defunct talks led by Vice President Joseph Biden. Discussion could also occur on a way to use the alternative minimum tax to create a larger savings package.

Whether they make substantial progress, however, seems unlikely, given the posturing Monday.

“If each side takes a maximalist position, if each side wants 100 percent of what its ideological predispositions are, then we can’t get anything done,” Obama said. “[But] the things that I will not consider are a 30-day or a 60-day or a 90-day or a 180-day temporary stopgap resolution to this problem. This is the United States of America, and we don’t manage our affairs in three-month increments. We don’t risk U.S. default on our obligations because we can’t put politics aside.”

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