(Charles Dharapak / Associated…)
Emerging from a meeting with congressional leaders on the debt ceiling Thursday, President Obama said the parties "are still far apart on a wide range of issues," but have agreed to reconvene Sunday at the White House after their staffers work through the weekend on a deal.
The president, describing Thursday's talks as "frank" and "constructive," acknowledged "that there's going to be pain involved politically" in coming to a deal by the Aug. 2 deadline.
"I want to emphasize that nothing is agreed to until everything's agreed to," Obama told reporters after the meeting. "Our biggest obligation is to make sure that we're doing the right thing by the American people, creating an environment in which we can grow the economy and make sure that more and more people are being put back to work."
Sources confirmed ahead of the meeting that Obama would seek broad changes to Social Security, Medicare and a commitment to overhaul the nation's tax code in a bold push for a $4-trillion package of deficit reductions.
House Republicans said Wednesday that any agreement to end some tax breaks should be offset by spending reductions elsewhere. Everything is on the table, House Speaker John Boehner said earlier Thursday, except raising taxes on the American people.
The gathering in the Cabinet Room of the White House included eight lawmakers -- each party's leadership from both chambers of Congress -- as well as the president, Vice President Joe Biden and other senior administration aides. A White House spokesman described the atmosphere in the room simply as "constructive."
Obama said that when the parties return to the table Sunday, he expects all sides will then "at least know where each other's bottom lines are, and we'll hopefully be in a position to then start engaging in the hard bargaining that's necessary to get a deal done."
Meanwhile, senators held a floor debate on debt and deficit reduction, and the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee held a hearing on consequences of a U.S. default on its debt.
A debt-ceiling vote is needed by Aug. 2 to avert what experts say would be a catastrophic upheaval of the financial system if the nation defaults. Obama said all parties agreed Thursday "that we have to get this done before the hard deadline."