WASHINGTON (AP) — Six months in the making, a much anticipated golf game between two of the world's most powerful people will unfold on a military base whose location was a closely guarded secret as tee time approached Saturday.
The big question was not who would win or lose. Instead it was whether 18 holes of golf could possibly give President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner enough time to hash out their substantial policy differences on everything from the debt to U.S. military involvement in Libya.
Probably not. But aides to both men say the time Obama and Boehner will spend together on their first-ever golf outing could help improve a relationship that is respectful, but hardly close.
"Spending a number of hours together in that kind of environment I think can only help improve the chances of bipartisan cooperation," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
"It certainly can't hurt it — unless someone wins really big," he added.
Boehner is considered one of Washington's best golfers. Obama is not in that league.
The golf outing comes against the backdrop of negotiations between the White House and Congress over a long-term deficit reduction plan that will set the stage for increasing the amount of money the government can borrow. Republicans have insisted on significant cuts of about $2 trillion over 10 or 12 years before agreeing to increase the current $14.3 debt ceiling, which the government says it will surpass Aug. 2.
Vice President Joe Biden is leading a group of bipartisan lawmakers in deficit talks, and will be Obama's golf partner Saturday.
Boehner, meanwhile, picked Ohio's budget-slashing Republican Gov. John Kasich, to join him for the round. Kasich was House Budget Committee chairman in the 1990s when Republicans were negotiating budgets with Democratic President Bill Clinton.
While both sides say they're optimistic about the progress being made in the deficit talks, Boehner has suggested he and the president may need to get more closely involved in order to reach a deal.
But the White House has tamped down any expectations about that happening on the golf course.
"I can say with great confidence that they will not wrap up the 18th hole and come out and say that we have a deal," Carney said.
Policy tensions between Obama and Boehner have also recently extended to the U.S. military campaign in Libya. Boehner led the House in passing a resolution that chastised Obama for failing to provide a "compelling rationale" for U.S. involvement, and has said Obama is in violation of the War Powers Act. In return, the White House has sought to discredit Boehner's position on the Act, sending reporters old statements Boehner made questioning the constitutionality of the measure.
Boehner will have a clear advantage in at least one important area Saturday — the golf game itself. The speaker reportedly shoots in the low-80s, good enough for the magazine Golf Digest to recently rank him 43rd among 150 prominent Washington golfers. The president, on the other hand, was ranked 108.
"Boehner's a much better golfer than I am, so I'm expecting him to give me some strokes," Obama said in a recent television interview.
The president is likely to get a boost from Biden — Golf Digest's 29th best golfer in Washington.
While the round will be played in private, cameras will get a quick glimpse of the foursome on the course. White House officials are playing coy, however, about whether they will release the score.
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