Obama Meets Romney; 'Cliff' Talks Falter

Obama, Romney share lunch of chili and chicken; shake hands in Oval Office.

November 29, 2012, 12:12 PM

Nov. 29, 2012 -- President Obama and Mitt Romney met face to face today for the first time since the election, breaking bread at the White House as talks over the looming "fiscal cliff" appeared to be faltering on Capitol Hill.

"I bet it was and is quite tasty," Obama spokesman Jay Carney said of the lunch as it was underway, "because [the chefs] know how to prepare very fine meals."

The menu included white turkey chili and Southwestern grilled chicken salad, the White House said in a written statement following the meal. The discussion was said to center on "America's leadership in the world and the importance of maintaining that leadership position in the future."

The former rivals concluded their 70-minute encounter with a visit to the Oval Office, the symbolic center of American power to which Romney has long tried to accede, shaking hands before the iconic "Resolute" presidential desk.

"Governor Romney congratulated the President for the success of his campaign and wished him well over the coming four years," the White House said. "They pledged to stay in touch, particularly if opportunities to work together on shared interests arise in the future."

The lunch took place in an elegant private dining room in the West Wing overlooking the manicured gardens of the White House South Lawn. Romney was seen coming and going from a side entrance in a black SUV. The former GOP nominee arrived without fanfare or entourage, opening his own car door both times.

President Obama said during a news conference earlier this month that he was interested in speaking with Romney about his ideas on jobs and economic growth, noting that his rival had "presented some ideas during the course of the campaign that I actually agree with."

Administration officials said there was no formal agenda for today's lunch or a "specific ask" or assignment for the governor.

Romney, who has kept a relatively low profile since losing the election on Nov. 6, has not publicly addressed Obama's post-election overtures or the prospect of working together. Both men have little personal history and had a chilly relationship during the campaign.

Senior Romney campaign strategist Eric Fehrnstrom called Obama's lunch invitation "gracious" and said that Romney was "glad to accept." The governor also met earlier Thursday in Washington with former running mate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

The Obama-Romney detente came as talks between the White House and congressional Republicans to prevent the economy from going over the "fiscal cliff" of mandatory spending cuts and tax increases set for Jan. 1 appeared to hit a snag.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the lead White House negotiator in the talks, and White House legislative chief Rob Nabors held a flurry of meetings today with congressional leaders of both parties in the House and Senate.

But following sessions, top Republicans poured cold water on what had been budding optimism of progress toward a deal.

"No substantive progress has been made over the last two weeks," said House Speaker John Boehner at a press conference.

"We know what the menu is. What we don't know is what the White House is willing to do to get serious about solving our debt crisis," he said, accusing the administration of failing to detail plans for significant spending cuts to correspond with desired tax revenue increases.

Obama and Boehner spoke by phone Wednesday night, sources told ABC News, their second conversation in four days. Boehner described it as "direct and straightforward," but suggested "disappointment" with Obama's reticence to waver on hiking tax rates on the wealthy.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in advance of his meeting with Geithner, said everything the White House has put down on the table so far has been "counterproductive," and he hopes that the Treasury Secretary brings "a specific plan from the president" with him today.

Democrats insist any debt and deficit reduction deal must include income tax increases on individuals earning more than $200,000 a year and families earning more than $250,000 a year -- a major sticking point for Republicans who stand opposed.

GOP leaders say they are open to increasing tax revenues through elimination of some deductions and loopholes but only in tandem with deep spending cuts which they claim the White House has not specified.

"Democrats are on the same page, Republicans know where we stand," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today. "You can't get from here to there unless you raise the upper rates. And that's what the president suggested. It's up to them to come forward with something else."

The finger-pointing on specifics signals that both sides are waiting for the other to go first in negotiations, wary of losing leverage in taking the first step toward compromise.

ABC News' Emily Friedman and Ann Compton contributed to this report. This post has been updated.