Obama calls debt talks constructive, but cites divide on a range of issues

President Obama offered optimism that a debt deal was in reach Thursday but acknowledged the two sides remain far a part on a number of issues. 

After a meeting with congressional leaders that lasted just less than two hours, Obama said all parties had acknowledged "there's going to be pain involved politically on all sides." 

He also said major differences remained on a "wide range of issues" and that votes from both parties in both chambers would be required to move a package through Congress. 

At the same time, he said Democratic and Republican leaders arrived at the White House with a shared spirit of compromise.

"Everybody acknowledged that the issue of our debt and our deficit is something that needs to be tackled now," Obama said in remarks at the White House briefing room. "Everybody acknowledged that in order to do that, Democrats and Republicans are going to be required in each chamber."

The president said staff would be put to work on negotiations over the next few days and leaders would return to the White House on Sunday for another meeting. 

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"A lot of work will be done between now and then," Obama said.
Thursday's meeting took place after reports of new flexibility from the president on Social Security, and from Republicans on taxes. 

Obama is now pushing for a deficit-reduction package totaling $4 trillion over 10 years, according to reports, that would include changes to Social Security and Medicare. 

The president offered no details on the content of the talks, saying "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed to."

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is considering revenue raisers totaling $1 trillion that could be included in the package. Boehner did not refute that report but said Thursday that the GOP would not agree to any deal that raised taxes. 

Obama said that he will meet with lawmakers Sunday "with the expectation that at that point, the parties will know at least each others' bottom lines." He also said everyone at the meeting agreed that the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling needs to be raised "before the hard deadline" of Aug. 2, when the Treasury Department says it will no longer have the ability to pay the nation's bills. Economists warn this could lead to catastrophic effects on the economy, and business groups have pressed politicians to come together on a deal.

After Obama spoke, White House press secretary Jay Carney said there was "not a specific breakthrough that happened today, but there was a constructive atmosphere" during the meeting.

Obama earlier this week told lawmakers they faced a “unique opportunity” with talks to raise the debt ceiling and cut the deficit.

The signals of progress have prompted new optimism for the debt-ceiling talks. At the same time, the reports of flexibility from Obama and Boehner are sure to provoke some anxiety about what each side might have to give up to get a deal.

Some Democrats on Thursday insisted that Social Security should not be on the table, and complained that Obama should have let them know of his plans before they learned of it in the press.

This story was updated at 2:06 p.m.

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