“We need concrete plans to move this forward,” he said.
A breakthrough in the White House talks looked unlikely, however, leaving the Senate framework as the chief option for raising the debt limit before Aug. 2, when the Treasury will be unable to pay its bills without additional borrowing authority.
That deadline loomed ever larger Thursday, as China, the U.S. government’s largest foreign creditor, called on U.S. policymakers to take action to protect the interests of investors. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben S. Bernanke warned that failure to raise the debt ceiling would amount to “a self-inflicted wound” that would cause “a very severe financial shock” to the global economy. And Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told lawmakers that they are running out of time.
“We’ve looked at all available options, and we have no way to give Congress more time to solve this problem,” Geithner told reporters after meeting behind closed doors with Senate Democrats. “The eyes of the country are on us, and the eyes of the world are on us, and we need to make sure that we stand together and send a definitive signal that we are going to take the steps necessary to avoid default.”
The ticking clock spawned a day of high political theater on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers grew increasingly nervous about the lack of movement in the House. Many conservative Republicans continued to deny claims of impending calamity, and Democrats unleashed an unusually harsh and personal attack against the man they view as the biggest impediment to compromise, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said Cantor “shouldn’t even be at the table” in the White House talks, where Cantor has eclipsed House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) as the voice of the GOP in demanding unprecedented spending cuts while rejecting Democratic calls for fresh tax revenue.
Reid accused Cantor of fueling the “irresponsible voices in the Republican Party” who continue to view default as a legitimate option for restraining the size of government.
“More than anything else, he is holding up an agreement at this point,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the No. 3 Democratic leader, said of Cantor.
Democrats have been kinder to Boehner, who briefly seemed willing to work with Obama to craft a landmark debt-reduction package. But Boehner abandoned that effort last weekend, when it became clear that he would have to convince the House rank and file to consent to a rewrite of the tax code that would raise upwards of $1 trillion in fresh revenue over the next decade.