In a barbed aside that is fast becoming a standard Republican talking point, Boehner suggested that Obama is trying to avoid a debt-limit fight in 2012 primarily because it would focus the nation’s attention again on budget matters just as the presidential campaign is kicking into high gear.
“I know the president’s worried about his next election. But my God, shouldn’t we be worried about the country?” Boehner said.
That strategy calls for Congress to act first on a short-term extension of the debt limit that would give the Treasury about $900 billion in additional borrowing authority — enough to pay the nation’s bills only through early next year. That would be paired with about $1.2 trillion in cuts to government agencies, including the Pentagon, over the next decade.
Under the plan, Congress would also create a 12-member committee staffed with lawmakers from both the House and Senate and tasked with identifying at least $1.6 trillion in additional savings by a deadline set for later this year. Those savings would be paired with a second debt-limit increase, meeting Boehner’s dollar-for-dollar condition.
Obama strongly opposes a short-term extension of the $14.3 trillion debt limit, arguing that prolonged uncertainty about the government’s financial capabilities would be harmful to the U.S. economy and the nation’s global standing. White House Chief of Staff William M. Daley said Sunday that Obama would veto a short-term extension. All weekend, negotiators representing Reid, Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) worked to find a compromise.
By Sunday afternoon, they were focused on a range of options aimed at guaranteeing
that Congress would approve $1.6 trillion in fresh savings and fresh borrowing authority by the end of the year. Possibilities included making it easy for Congress to push through the committee’s recommendations.
Negotiators also discussed tying an automatic debt-limit increase to the committee’s recommendations, as well as creating a trigger that would cut spending and raise the debt limit if the committee failed to act.
Boehner seemed to leave the door open to such changes in an afternoon conference call with House Republicans, telling them that the path forward would require them “to pull together as a team behind a new measure that has a shot at getting to the president’s desk.”
Boehner warned that it would not be the “cut, cap and balance” bill that passed the House but failed in the Senate last week. That measure calls for sharp spending cuts and ties a debt-limit increase to a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.
But Boehner told his troops that he could see another a path emerging, according to participants on the call. He added, “If we stick together, I think we can win this for the American people.”
Less than two hours later, Reid carried the plan to the White House, where it appeared to meet with the president’s disapproval. Afterward, a White House official said the president “received an update on the state of negotiations on the Hill from Leader Pelosi and Leader Reid, and the Leaders and the president reiterated our opposition to a short-term debt limit increase.”
But a Republican aide close to the talks said Boehner, Reid and McConnell “all agreed on the general framework of a two-part plan.” When Reid took the bipartisan plan to the White House, the aide said, “the president said no.”
A spokesman said Reid was open to the two-step framework but never endorsed the emerging compromise. As talks broke down, aides in both chambers said the House was likely to proceed with its measure on Monday, aiming for Wednesday passage. Senate leaders, meanwhile, were laying plans to push their proposal toward final passage Friday.
Unless a compromise emerges, the legislative maneuvering threatens to devolve into a dangerous game of chicken, with each side daring the other to reject its measure and take the blame for tipping the nation into an economy-shattering default.
Staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.
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