Obama talks to Boehner on budget and immigration

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner talked about pending political battles before the congressional recess, but White House officials declined to detail the conversation.

Any contact between the two leaders could be critical, because they’re expected this fall to negotiate important budget deals, to clash over delays to Obamacare, and to kill or approve a controversial and transformative rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws.

“My sense is they spoke about a variety of the issues that are coming up for action by Congress,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

“I’m sure that would include immigration reform, as well as some of the economic initiatives the President would like Congress to take up… and obviously, the budget issues that we have to deal with in the fall,” he said.

The two talked “shortly before the [House] went on recess, Carney added. “I think it was within the last week.”

Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel, told The Daily Caller on Sunday that the talk took place, but he declined to provide any details.

Early this year, Boehner swore off future closed-door negotiations with Obama, after Obama used his post-election clout, plus his allies in the media, to force a tax increase through Congress.

The political fights this fall are expected to be critical for the president, whose declining approval ratings fell to 41 percent late this week, only 3 points above his record low in mid-October 2011, according to Gallup. The poll, which averages 1,500 daily responses over three days, also showed a 51 percent disapproval rate.

Unless Obama scores a real or symbolic political victory this fall, his ratings may decline enough to wreck his ambitious political plans and ruin his chances of winning a Democratic majority in the House in November 2014.

The poor economy is a primary driver of the president’s declining poll numbers. In early July Gallup and Quinnipiac polls indicated Obama’s economic and immigration policies are also contributing to his sagging popularity.

Obama said Friday that he wants the House to pass the “Gang of Eight” immigration plan that passed the Senate in June. The push for increased inflow of workers is popular among the GOP’s wealthy donors, but very unpopular among voters, partly because so many Americans are already unemployed.

However, GOP leaders in the House, including Boehner, have repeatedly signaled they will back a bill that would provide a conditional amnesty for illegal aliens presently in the United States, and also increase the inflow of new workers.

The implementation of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare,” is also a lighting rod, and three new GOP Senators — two of whom are vying for primary support in the 2016 presidential race — have split their caucus by demanding the GOP threaten to defund the federal government unless Obama rolls back his signature government-expanding success.

Obama is using that split to paint the GOP as hostile to government-funded health-care programs, such as Medicare.

That push is controversial, partly because many GOP leaders worry the public will oppose a high-stakes fight that could damage the current, government supervised health-care sector. It’s also controversial because it may distract GOP supporters from protesting the planned immigration rewrite during the August recess.

Carney tried to downplay the conversation between Obama and Boehner, and to suggest it is a normal White House outreach to the GOP.

Obama “has engaged [in budget talks] with Republican lawmakers for much of this year, as has his senior staff, in conversations… but what we haven’t yet seen from Republicans is a similar proposal representing compromise from them,” Carney said, referring to Obama’s outreach to compromise-minded GOP Senators, such as Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

“We look forward to [a compromise] happening and hope it does… [but] we haven’t seen that,” he said.