It could be the most awkward office Christmas party of the year.
With partisan debate over the “fiscal cliff” becoming more acrimonious by the day, President Obama will play host tonight to House Speaker John Boehner and members of Congress for the season’s first White House holiday reception.
Boehner’s visit, confirmed by his office, will be his second trip to the White House for face-time with Obama since the president won re-election last month. Both men have also spoken by phone twice over the past two weeks, with the most recent call described by aides as anything but cordial.
The festive display of culinary delicacies from the White House chefs and cheery carols from the Marine Corps Band are unlikely to warm relations between the rival parties, which are firmly dug in on taxes and entitlement reforms.
“Right now, I would say we’re nowhere, period. We’re nowhere,” Boehner said on Fox News Sunday.
The chief sticking point is taxes. Obama is insistent that rates rise on individuals earning more than $200,000 a year and families making $250,000 or more. Boehner and Republicans are staunchly opposed.
Obama on Friday ratcheted up rhetorical pressure on his opponents, accusing them of setting the stage for a “Scrooge Christmas” if they didn’t at least consent to extending current lower tax rates for middle-income earners. He scoffed, “That’s sort of like the lump of coal you get for Christmas.”
The line drew a retort from Boehner, who said later that the onus for brokering a compromise rests with the president.
“The Republicans are not seeking to impose our will on the president. We’re seeking a bipartisan solution that can pass both chambers of Congress and be signed into law by the president in the coming days,” he said Friday.
“There have been many conversations over the last couple of years that could inform a solution. And I hope the president will draw from those discussions and work with both parties to find common ground.”
There are no planned meetings this week between Obama, Boehner or other key figures in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. The sweeping package of automatic, across-the-board tax hikes and deep spending cuts will take effect in 29 days unless both sides reach a deal.