WASHINGTON - July 5, 2011 -- President Obama made an unscheduled appearance today before reporters to say that some progress has been made in the deeply divided negotiations over the nation's debt ceiling, and "greater progress is in sight."
But he cautioned, there is still a long way to go: "I don't want to fool anybody, we still have to work through our differences."
Obama was adamant that he is not looking for a short term solution to the nation's debt crisis, a solution he said would merely be "kicking the can down the road."
"Right now we have a unique opportunity to do something big to tackle our deficit in a way that forces our government to live within our means," Obama said.
The president invited leaders from both parties and both houses of Congress to the White House on Thursday to continue the debt negotiations. He said both parties need to "get out of their comfort zones" and discuss cuts to spending and tax increases that would offset the nation's debt burden.
"I hope everyone leaves ultimatums and political rhetoric at the door," Obama said.
Just last week, Obama struck a more frustrated tone when he scolded Congress for scheduling a July 4th holiday recess while the debt negotiations remain in limbo. Shortly after those remarks, the Senate majority leader cancelled the time off and the legislative body is session this week after all.
But both sides remain entrenched in their positions, and the road to compromise is unclear.
House Speaker John Boehner welcomed the prospect of a new round of talks at the White House Thursday, but said in a statement that any talks wout be "fruitless" unless Democrats agree to forego any tax hikes.
"The legislation the President has asked for – which would increase taxes on small businesses and destroy more American jobs – cannot pass the House, as I have stated repeatedly," Boehner said.
In the Senate Tuesday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell renewed his invitation for President Obama to travel to Capitol Hill to talk Republicans about how to move forward.
But McConnell made clear that he would not sign on to any deal that raised taxes. Voters, he said, sent Republicans to Washington at the 2010 Midterm election as a message refuting the President.
"They think Washington needs to either find a way to pay its bills or to scale back its commitments. Just like they do," McConnell said. "Americans have made enough sacrifices the past few years. It's time Washington learns to make some sacrifices of its own."
The tax issue is the major stumbling block seems to be whether taxes need to be raised to bring in more revenue, even while the nation's debt limit is also extended. The White House and many Democrats are calling for a tax increase while many Republicans prefer to see only spending cuts.
Last week Obama admonished Republicans for refusing to accept a tax hike, even for the wealthiest Americans, as part of any deal to raise the nation's debt ceiling.
"You can't reduce the deficit to the levels that it needs to be reduced without having some revenue in the mix," the president told a White House news conference after a breakdown in administration negotiations with Congress on reaching a debt-ceiling deal while at the same time reducing soaring deficits.
Boehner has led the chorus of Republicans refusing to agree to any tax increases as part of a deal. Last week Boehner shrugged off the Aug. 2 deadline set by the Treasury Department for raising the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling as "artificial" and emphasized that "we cannot miss this opportunity" to close the country's growing budget gap.
There are just 27 days until the nation goes into default, on the August 2 deadline set by the Treasury Department for action to raise the debt ceiling. The White House said last week that they'd like to see a deal reached by July 22 in order to raise the limit before defaulting on August 2.
That idea has had some support among Democrats in the Senate.
"The White House I think is being very wise and careful," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said last week. "They say we should not step to the edge of the cliff because we might fall off. So I think having a date in advance of August 2 to have an agreement in place makes sense."
But so far that advanced date has done little to speed up the pace of action on Capitol Hill and the White House, with both sides blaming the other for the stalemate.
Debt negotiations between the administration and Congress had reached an impasse after Vice President Joe Biden met for weeks with congressional leaders from both parties in an effort to hash out an agreement. But when House Majority Whip Eric Cantor abandoned the negotiations, the talks stalled. Now the president is trying to get the talks back on track.
"They've made some real progress in narrowing down the differences," the president said last week, noting that the two sides have already agreed on a "conceptual framework" with around $1 trillion in spending cuts.
"We've got to seize this moment, and we've got to seize it soon," he said.
Treasury Department officials have warned that a failure by Congress to raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit by Aug. 2 could trigger devastating consequences. Whenever an increase to the limit has been necessary in the past, Congress has never failed to raise the debt ceiling. But to date, with Congress divided and ever more focused on the 2012 elections, lawmakers have shown little sign of coming together on any agreement to raise the red ink limit.
Making matters worse for the White House, the debt stalemate has come as a slew of disappointing reports on the country's struggling economy poured in. Last month employers added only 54,000 new jobs, the slowest month of hiring since last fall, and the unemployment rate ticked up to 9.1 percent. Another report on jobs figures is due later this week.
The struggling jobs market could have serious implications for the president as he seeks re-election next year. No president since Franklin Roosevelt has been re-elected with an unemployment rate higher than 7.2 percent.
Sara Just, Mary Bruce and Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.