WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner teamed up in a golf match on Saturday to try to build a friendlier climate for troubled talks on the debt and deficits.
In a game won on the 18th hole, Obama, a Democrat, and Boehner beat Vice President Joe Biden and Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich on a course at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, just outside Washington.
The four hit the links as Democrats and Republicans were at odds over ways to cut the U.S. budget by trillions and to raise the $14.3 trillion ceiling on the nation’s debt.
Since May, Biden has been leading talks with a group of lawmakers. Without a deal to allow the nation to issue more debt, the Treasury Department has warned the government will begin defaulting on obligations on August 2.
Kasich, a former congressman, is an expert on federal financial matters and a friend of the speaker.
At the first hole, Biden, a skilled golfer, sank a putt of about 15 feet.
“You all catch that?” Obama asked the reporters accompanying him.
Wearing a white polo shirt and tan baseball cap, Obama crouched down over his putt of about 10 feet, which it took him two strokes to sink.
When Boehner sank his putt from about the same distance, the speaker yelled, “Oh yeah!”
Many experts believe any debt deal will require Obama and Boehner to step in. Their personal relationship could make a difference in the dynamics of the negotiations.
Before the golf game, aides to both Obama and Boehner played down the prospects of a breakthrough in the debt talks and said tough decisions on the budget would be left to lawmakers.
But they left open the possibility that policy issues such as the debt would come up in the conversation.
U.S. presidents have played golf with friends and foes for years. Lyndon Johnson rounded up votes for the 1965 Civil Rights Act on the golf course, while Bill Clinton often used the game to negotiate with allies and opponents.
Obama has usually used golf as a form of relaxation rather than politicking. In more than 60 rounds of golf during his presidency, he typically plays with close aides and friends.
Golf Digest has rated Boehner a better player than the president and has said Biden’s skills top both of theirs.
For their win, Obama and the speaker each took home $2.
After the game, the four went to the patio of a clubhouse for cold drinks and to watch coverage of the U.S. Open golf tournament taking place in nearby Bethesda, Maryland.
Julian Zelizer, a professor at Princeton University, said both Boehner and Obama needed to appear to be trying to reach a solution on the debt ceiling but that Saturday’s game would probably yield only limited progress in improving Washington’s fractious climate.
“Both parties are really stuck in,” he said. “It’s hard to overcome all the forces that make partisanship so strong on Capitol Hill. It’s hard for a golf outing to overcome that.”
Additional reporting by Laura MacInnis, Larry Fine and Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Peter Cooney