WASHINGTON — Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that election losses last November would not deter his party from pressing its vision of reducing the size of government and turning government health care programs largely over to the private sector — with no more tax increases.
In an interview, Boehner said that candidates and personalities — not Republican proposals on Medicare and spending cuts — had accounted for the party’s defeats, taking a hard line on further budget talks even as Senate Republicans met with President Barack Obama in a search for common ground.
“There are a lot of factors that went into that election," Boehner said. “I don’t know that that’s the issue. Eighty percent of the American people think that Washington has a spending problem."
The speaker’s tough stance on differences with the president came as Obama pursued his outreach to congressional Republicans, this time in the Senate. For almost 90 minutes, the president and Senate Republicans jousted cordially on entitlement spending, the Keystone XL pipeline, the White House’s role on immigration proposals and whether an overhaul of the tax code should generate more revenues through higher taxes or only economic growth.
Neither side offered concrete movement toward the other, but the president and Senate Republicans agreed that they had a narrow window — perhaps through July — to reach an accord, and both sides agreed to try.
“I specifically said, to get to a big deal you have to work with us. You have to grind it out with us until we get there. You can’t break off and say, ‘Oh, Congress has to do it,’ " said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who added that Republicans and the president agreed the window would most likely close by July. That is when Republicans could pick a fight over the debt ceiling and when Obama said the politics of the midterm elections would begin to take hold.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, also struck a conciliatory note in an interview, saying she was open to examining a change in the way the government calculates inflation to slow the growth of Social Security and other benefit programs, while slowly boosting tax revenues.
That tone contrasted sharply with the direction House Republicans are taking. Although Boehner expressed some hope that the divided Congress could reach a deficit accord, he gave little indication that Obama’s overtures to House Republicans had yielded tangible movement.