To Republicans, he said they have long pushed deficit reduction as the way to create desperately needed jobs and now won't take yes for an answer. "Where are they?" he said. "I mean, this is what they claim would be the single biggest boost to business certainty and confidence. So what's the hold-up?"
And to Democrats eager to protect entitlements, Obama said doing nothing is not tenable. The president said Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have to be made stronger for the longer term and the rising debt each year will crowd out Democratic priorities such as education and medical research.
"So, yeah, we're going to have a sales job," he conceded. "This is not pleasant."
The president himself is under pressure to get a deal that can pass Congress without undermining his own positions — and voters.
Obama's previous meeting with top lawmakers from both parties, on Sunday night, accomplished little.
And that was after the possibility of a grander deal on the magnitude of $4 trillion, as discussed by Obama and Boehner, fell apart Saturday night amid steep Republican opposition.
The meeting Monday was expected to focus on potential debt savings identified by Vice President Joe Biden and lawmakers during earlier talks. But that group, too, was bitterly divided over taxes, and the amount of savings they found elsewhere still falls short of what all sides agree must come together quickly.
For his part, Boehner told reporters that he agreed with Obama that the nation's borrowing limit must be raised, but he said revenues can be raised without hiking taxes. Boehner said Obama insists on raising taxes but the White House isn't serious enough about reforming entitlement programs.
Here, too, there was an enormous gap in how both sides described the state of play.
"I am prepared to take on significant heat from my party to get something done," Obama said, contending he has "bent over backward" to work with Republicans.
The president made clear Monday that any changes to Social Security would be designed to ensure money is available for beneficiaries years from now — as opposed to trimming costs to reduce the deficit. One possibility would lower cost-of-living increases for recipients.
As to why that would be included in debt talks, Obama said it all came back to politics.
"If you're going to take a bunch of tough votes," he said, "You might as well do it now."
Associated Press writers Erica Werner and Julie Pace contributed to this story.
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