Vice President Biden and a group of six bipartisan congressional leaders meet at the Capitol on Tuesday for their sixth round of negotiations on a comprehensive deficit-reduction plan.
Tuesday’s talks, which begin at 2 p.m., will be the first since negotiators agreed last week to pick up the pace. The group meets again Wednesday morning and Thursday afternoon.
The task ahead for negotiators remains a tall one as Congress faces an Aug. 2 deadline to raise the $14.3 trillion federal debt ceiling or risk sending the country spiraling into default, according to Treasury officials. Biden and the lawmakers are hustling to to near agreement on cutting the deficit and raising the debt limit by the end of June, but it’s likely that a final deal will be hammered out by President Obama and top congressional leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
There are a range of options for a budget deal, including: an agreement to raise the debt ceiling for nine months in exchange for $1 trillion in budget savings; an 18-month extension of the debt limit, along with $2 trillion in savings; and a longer-term agreement to cut the deficit by $4 trillion — a deal favored by Obama’s deficit commission and some congressional Republicans. Boehner has said the length of a debt ceiling extension would hinge on the amount agreed to in spending cuts.
A shorter debt-limit extension would mean that lawmakers would have to vote repeatedly to raise the country’s debt ceiling before facing reelection in 2012.
In an unusual move for the top Republican, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), one of the negotiators, heaped praise on Biden for his leadership in the talks.
“I think the success of these talks thus far is due to the vice president and the way that he has conducted the meetings,” Cantor said Monday. “He has allowed for proposals to be brought forward that not everybody agrees to.”
Asked to elaborate, Cantor described himself as “very impressed” with the vice president’s leadership and said Biden had “kept the ball rolling.”
“He does like to talk, but I think that, I guess, all of us do or we wouldn’t be here,” Cantor said. “And we are, I believe, beginning to see the essence of convergence on savings begin to happen. Now, a lot of this will be up to where the speaker and the president end up.”
One issue to watch is whether Republicans will need Democratic votes on the final debt-limit measure this summer. Cantor declined to say whether he believes Democratic support will be needed.
Cantor also said that he would prefer there be only one debt-limit vote before the 2012 election. But declined to specify the total in spending cuts Republicans are looking for in the deal.
“Listen, I don’t think there’s any limit on the upside as to how big the savings are going to be,” Cantor said. “We’re trying to accomplish as much as possible. I think the speaker has said he wants to see more than what the debt limit increase will be itself, and I think we can accomplish that if parties are willing to make the tough decisions.”
The other participants in the debt-limit talks are House Budget Committee ranking member Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and House Assistant Democratic Leader Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.).