WASHINGTON - Signaling an attempt to break an impasse, President Obama on Thursday placed calls to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell about the looming spending cuts set to kick in on March 1.
Neither side reported progress, however, and aides taunted each other with Twitter messages.
The outreach on the automatic spending cuts was Obama's first in weeks to top Republicans in Congress. They came as parties were stalemated over how to avoid across-the-board cuts that would trim $85 billion from most government accounts.
White House spokesman Jay Carney revealed the calls Thursday, describing them as "good conversations." But neither he nor top Republican aides offered details. Obama also spoke to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Thursday, though aides said the men speak often.
Obama sounded cautious about chances for a breakthrough during a Thursday interview with television and radio talk show host Al Sharpton.
"At this point, we continue to reach out to the Republicans and say this is not going to be good for the economy, and it's not going to be good for ordinary people," Obama said. "But I don't know if they're going to move, and that's what we're going to have to try to keep pushing over the next seven, eight days."
Later Thursday, Carney and Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck engaged in an exchange on Twitter debating Obama's insistence on replacing the cuts with a combination of tax increases and targeted spending reductions, an approach that Obama says would strike a balance.
Republicans have refused to increase taxes, noting that Congress already agreed to a previous Obama request to raise the upper tax rate for top income earners.
"Oh, Jay. Was it balanced when the president got $600B in revenue with no spending cuts just last month?" Buck tweeted.
"Oh, Brendan, back in real world, POTUS has signed into law (more than) $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction, 2/3 of it spending cuts," Carney replied, using the acronym for president of the United States.
Both aides' assertions are correct and not mutually exclusive. The $600 billion in 10-year revenue came from a rate hike on top earners agreed to in a New Year's deal that delayed the automatic cuts until March 1.
Before that, Congress and Obama in 2011 enacted $1.4 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years.
The remaining $500 billion in deficit reduction is the result of lower interest payments on the national debt.