Obama, Boehner meet to discuss 'fiscal cliff'

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met Sunday at the White House to discuss the ongoing

negotiations over the impending "fiscal cliff," the first meeting between just the two leaders since Election Day.

Spokesmen for both Obama and Boehner said they agreed to not release details of the conversation, but emphasized that the

lines of communication remain open.

The meeting comes as the White House and Congress try to break an impasse over finding a way to stop a combination of automatic

tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to kick in at the beginning of next year.

Obama met in November with Boehner, as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The

president spoke by telephone with Reid and in person with Pelosi on Friday.

Obama has been pushing higher tax rates on

the wealthiest Americans as one way to reduce the deficit — a position


and other House Republicans have been steadfastly against.

Republicans are demanding steeper cuts in costly government entitlement

programs like Medicare and Social Security.

One GOP senator said Sunday that Senate Republicans would probably agree to higher tax rates on the wealthiest Americans if

it meant getting a chance to overhaul entitlement programs.

The comments by Bob Corker of Tennessee — a fiscal conservative who has been gaining stature in the Senate as a pragmatic

deal broker — puts new pressure on Boehner and other Republican leaders to rethink their long-held assertion that even the

very rich shouldn't see their rates go up next year. GOP leaders have argued that the revenue gained by hiking the top two

tax rates would be trivial to the deficit, and that any tax hike hurts job creation.

But Corker said insisting on that red line — especially since Obama won re-election after campaigning on raising tax rates

on the wealthy — might not be wise.

"There is a growing group of folks looking at this and realizing that we don't have a lot of cards as it relates to the tax

issue before year end," Corker told "Fox News Sunday."

If Republicans agree to Obama's plan to increase rates on the top 2 percent of Americans, Corker added, "the focus then shifts

to entitlements and maybe it puts us in a place where we actually can do something that really saves the nation."

Besides getting tax hikes through the

Republican-dominated House, Corker's proposal faces another hurdle:

Democrats haven't

been receptive to GOP proposals on the entitlement programs.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Sunday was skeptical

about proposals to increase the eligibility age for Medicare from

65 to 67. He said he doesn't see Congress addressing the

complicated issue of Medicare overhaul in the three weeks

remaining before the end of the year.

"I just don't think we can do it in a matter of days here before the end of the year," Durbin said. "We need to address that

in a thoughtful way through the committee structure after the first of the year."

And hard-line fiscal conservatives in the House are holding fast to their position.

"No Republican wants to vote for a rate tax increase," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, chairman of the House Republican


Added Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.: "I'm

not sure there is support for the rate hikes. There is support for

revenue by cleaning

up the code."

Still, at least one House Republican has said there is another way. Rep. Tom Cole, of Oklahoma, has said Obama and Boehner

should agree not to raise tax rates on the majority of Americans and negotiate the rates for top earners later. Cole said

Sunday that most House Republicans would vote for that approach because it doesn't include a rate hike.

"You know, it's not waving a white flag to recognize political reality," Cole said.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., already has said he could support higher tax rates on upper incomes as part of a comprehensive plan

to cut the federal deficit.

When asked Sunday what it would take to sign

on to a tax rate increase, Coburn echoed Corker's comments by

responding, "Significant

entitlement reform." He quickly added, however, that he has

estimated that such a tax rate increase would only affect about

7 percent of the deficit.

"Will I accept a tax increase as a part of a

deal to actually solve our problems? Yes," Coburn said. "But the


negotiating with the wrong people. He needs to be negotiating with

our bondholders in China, because if we don't put a credible

plan on the discussion, ultimately, we all lose."

Obama's plan would raise $1.6 trillion in

revenue over 10 years, partly by letting decade-old tax cuts on the

country's highest

earners expire at the end of the year. He would continue those

Bush-era tax cuts for everyone except individuals earning more

than $200,000 and couples making above $250,000. The highest rates

on top-paid Americans would rise from 33 percent and 35

percent to 36 percent and 39.6 percent.

Boehner has offered $800 billion in new revenues to be raised by reducing or eliminating unspecified tax breaks on upper-income

people. The Republican plan would cut spending by $1.4 trillion, including by trimming annual increases in Social Security

payments and raising the eligibility age for Medicare.

Hensarling and Coburn spoke on ABC's "This Week." Blackburn and Cole spoke on CNN's "State of the Union." Durbin spoke on

NBC's "Meet the Press."