Philip Scott Andrews/The New York Times
“Once John Boehner is sworn in as Speaker, then he’s going to have responsibilities to govern,” Mr. Obama said, offering an early preview of how he thought a deal might be hammered out. “You can’t just stand on the sidelines and be a bomb thrower.”
Six months later, the collapse of debt limit talks between lieutenants for the two men suggests that direct negotiations between Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner will probably be the venue for a final deal — if one can be reached reached — and will come sooner rather than later.
On Thursday, Representative Eric Cantor, the majority leader, abandoned the weeks-long discussions with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., saying that Democrats refused to drop their calls for higher taxes. The White House quickly declared the talks — which both sides had described as productive — to be in “abeyance” until further notice.
But what looks at first blush like a setback may end up being a necessary step in a pattern of negotiation that Mr. Obama has already demonstrated: letting Mr. Biden and senior staff clear away the easy issues so that he can deal with the tough ones himself.
In April, Mr. Biden and the president’s senior staff battled with Congressional leaders over a budget deal as a government shutdown neared. But it was direct discussions between Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner, in person and on the phone, that brought the discussions to a final conclusion just before the clock hit midnight.
In talks about the Bush-era tax cuts last year, it was Mr. Obama who cut the final deal with Republican leaders. And a nuclear treaty with Russia was not completed until last-minute discussions between Mr. Obama and Congressional leaders settled some final issues.
There is long precedent in Washington for high-stakes summits between presidents and House speakers. Tip O’Neill, the Democratic speaker in the 1980s, and former President Ronald Reagan clashed repeatedly, but famously came together to personally negotiate an extension of Social Security.
Their successful sessions, however, were often preceded by dramatic breakdowns in talks. In 1982, one budget summit broke down with such rancor that neither man (or their aides) wanted to stand up first, out of fear of being blamed for walking out on the talks. They all agreed to stand up together.
“Most of these big negotiations usually have moments of drama and trauma before they get to resolution,” said Eric Ueland, who served as chief of staff for Senator Bill Frist, the former Republican majority leader. “It was good that this process cleared out a lot of underbrush. When it goes to the speaker and the president, you don’t need to start explaining for the first time.”
This week’s dramatic events on Thursday produced a rare moment of public agreement: White House officials and Congressional Republicans said they expected Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner to get more directly involved soon. But there was little clarity on when, exactly, that might happen.
Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Senate Republican, issued a statement calling on Mr. Obama to now play a larger role.
“President Obama needs to decide between his goal of higher taxes or a bipartisan plan to address our deficit,” Mr. Kyl said in a joint statement with Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader. “He can’t have both. But we need to hear from him.”
Mr. Boehner said he would “expect to hear” from the president soon.
Mr. Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, hinted that time was approaching quickly. While refusing to say that a specific meeting between the two men is planned, Mr. Carney told reporters on Air Force One that the final negotiations are nearing.
“It is not as though this negotiating group could simply declare into law what they agreed on,” Mr. Carney said. “So the process was always going to have to then proceed out of the negotiating room and move forward with the engagement of the speaker, Senate leaders” and others.
Last weekend’s so-called “golf summit” between the president and the speaker may have set the stage for the negotiations that are soon to come. White House officials said Thursday that the two men met privately on Wednesday, before Mr. Obama’s Afghanistan speech.
The meeting, Mr. Carney said, was “just to discuss a variety of issues, following up on conversations they had on the golf course on Saturday.”
If the pattern between the two men holds, the next discussions are likely to be more intense, coming as they might just days before an Aug. 2 deadline that would affect the nation’s ability to pay back it’s debt.
The nearly two months of the negotiations led by Mr. Biden have produced a series of agreements that both sides said have narrowed the differences — to a point. Both sides had apparently agreed to major spending cuts during the next decade but remained apart on taxes and other issues.
Aides on both sides said it was possible that the lower-level talks could resume again. But with the deadline approaching, everyone seems to be looking to Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner.
“This process has — is sort of proceeding as envisioned,” Mr. Carney said.