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Posted at 10:04 AM ET, 07/31/2011

McConnell outlines framework of potential debt deal


(Photo: Getty Images)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Sunday said that congressional leaders and the White House were “very, very close” to reaching agreement on a deal to raise the country’s debt ceiling, two days from a looming deadline set by the Treasury Department by which Congress must act or else the country will default on its obligations.

In an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” McConnell said he could “pretty confidently say” that the plan currently being worked out with the White House would avoid a catastrophic default.

The Senate is in session at noon Sunday, with a vote on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) debt-limit proposal tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m. It remains unclear whether that vote is still on track to happen or whether, due to the emergence of a debt compromise with the White House, a Senate vote on a debt ceiling plan may be postponed.

On Sunday morning, McConnell sketched the outlines of a $3 trillion, debt framework that would pair an immediate increase in the federal borrowing limit with immediate spending cuts. The proposal would also include caps on spending over the next decade and would mandate that a bipartisan committee of lawmakers recommend further cuts and potential changes to entitlement programs by the fall, with a “trigger” mechanism to ensure that action is taken to reduce the debt if the committee reaches a stalemate.

The process would involve a “resolution of disapproval” by Congress that would allow the debt ceiling to be further raised next year if one-third of either chamber agrees – an idea first proposed by McConnell in a “Plan B” he unveiled several weeks ago. The move would shift the political burden of raising the debt ceiling to the White House from congressional Republicans.

Also included in the nascent proposal would be a provision calling for a vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution – an element that has become a rallying point for House conservatives. But one potential sticking point in any House vote is that the plan calls only for a vote on such an amendment, not the passage of one, something at which many conservative Republicans are likely to balk.

The proposal could also encounter some opposition from House Republicans who have maintained that passage of a balanced budget amendment be a part of any deal.

A House Republican leadership aide who was not authorized to speak publicly about the talks said that “discussions are moving in the right direction, but serious issues remain. And no agreement will be final until members have a chance to weigh in.”

In a separate appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that he believed the fact that the debt framework would not include tax increases was “bad policy,” but he stopped short of expressing opposition to the plan.

“Keeping revenues off the table I think is a serious mistake,” said Durbin, the number-two Senate Democrat.

His Republican counterpart, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), said he viewed the plan positively.

“Republican principles will be significantly advanced by this proposed agreement,” Kyl said, adding that the GOP’s push for spending reforms as a condition of raising the debt ceiling “has resulted in a change in the president’s attitude.”

He noted, however, that while the proposal would include the “opportunity” to vote on a balanced budget amendment, such an amendment “would not be an essential element in order to move the agreement forward.”

Meanwhile, David Plouffe, a senior adviser to President Obama, said it would be “inconceivable if we don’t reach a deal.”

“Our focus now is on solving this,” he said on ABC’s “This Week” “There is no off-ramp here. The only option is for Congress to raise the debt ceiling, and deficit reduction.”

Asked if the deal represents a defeat for Democrats since it does not include tax increases, Plouffe said: “This isn’t about playing on the Republican playing field...The president has been clear he is willing to do some tough things.”

Plouffe said the bipartisan committee of lawmakers that would recommend further spending cuts would “strengthen” Medicare and Social Security “as opposed to taking it apart, which is what Republicans want to do.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was skeptical that the deal would be supported by more than half of House Republicans and said he was not yet ready to vote for it.

“I don’t see many conservatives getting behind this, quite frankly,” Graham said the same show. “The bottom line here is...We have not achieved entitlement change. We have not reduced the size and scope of government.”

“What I tell people at home is that instead of adding $10 trillion to the debt, we’re going to add $7 trillion. McConnell, appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” compared the bipartisan committee to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission of the 1990s, which recommended base closures to Congress for an up-or-down vote.

Asked on “Fox News Sunday” if the deal could pass the conservative GOP caucus in the House--especially without a provision for passage of a balanced budget amendment-- Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.), the House majority whip, was non-commital. “I think the American people want a balanced budget...That’s where we stand and that’s what we’ll fight for.”

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By and  |  10:04 AM ET, 07/31/2011

 
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