"It's bizarre. It's truly bizarre. There's no sense of urgency," retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, told The Washington Post. "We're lurching from deadline to deadline now. We do not want to create this as the new norm."
Obama summoned Boehner to the White House Thursday afternoon, hoping to prompt some progress before Boehner returned to his home district, an administration official told The New York Times.
But their talks over the looming $500 billion in automatic tax hikes and across-the-board spending cuts due to take effect in 17 days failed to break the impasse, the Post said.
Aides to both men described the 50-minute Oval Office meeting as a frank exchange and said simply the lines of communication remained open, as they did following a Sunday meeting.
The Times said Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was also part of Thursday's meeting.
Before the meeting, a senior administration official told the Times, "We are in the same place -- Boehner has not given on revenue and has not identified any cuts that he wants in exchange for rates.
"They have only moved backwards since the beginning," the official said of the Republicans.
Obama's top economic adviser, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, supported the gloomy outlook in a private lunch meeting Thursday with Senate Democrats, people who attended the lunch told the Post.
Earlier in the day, Boehner repeated demands Obama offer more concrete cuts to Medicare and other entitlements as the price to pay for tax-rate increases on incomes above $250,000.
"The law of the land today is that everyone's income taxes are going to go up Jan. 1," Boehner said. "I've made it clear that I think that's unacceptable, but until we get this issue resolved, that risk remains."
Senior Senate Republicans, meanwhile, worked up a fallback plan that would at least cancel the tax increases scheduled to take effect, the Post said.
The Senate plan -- which lawmakers and senior GOP aide told the Post Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., floated -- calls for Republicans to agree to Obama's demand to let tax rates rise on wage and salary income for the wealthiest 2 percent of taxpayers.
Boehner and other House leaders rejected it, the aides said.
McConnell spokesman Don Stewart denied McConnell floated the idea.
"The leader has held numerous discussions to hear input from his members, and many ideas have been raised," he told the Post.
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