Saturday, 30 July 2011

Obama Calls for Debt Deal as the House Nears a Vote

Jason Reed/Reuters
President Barack Obama delivers a statement on the U.S. debt ceiling talks, from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington on Friday.
WASHINGTON — President Obama called on Congress on Friday to produce a fiscal plan that could be passed with votes from both parties, as House Republicans hardened their position and Senate Democrats said they would move ahead with their own plan.
After a caucus meeting to round up the votes needed for House passage, Republicans said that Speaker John A. Boehner had agreed to modify his plan, which raises the debt ceiling only enough to last a few months, to make the next round of spending cuts and debt relief contingent on Congressional approval of a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
That, lawmakers confirmed, won pledges of enough votes to allow Mr. Boehner to pass his bill, which was put on hold at the last minute on Thursday, with only Republican votes, including those of many from the Tea Party faction.

But Democrats said it only made the House bill more unpalatable. “This is the most outrageous suggestion I have heard,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, the assistant Democratic leader.

“Any solution to avoid default must be bipartisan,” Mr. Obama said. “I urge Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to find common ground on a plan that can get support from both parties in the House, a plan that I can sign by Tuesday.”

Mr. Obama urged Republicans in the House and Senate to abandon a bill that “does not solve the problem” and has no chance of passage in the Senate.”

“There are a lot of crises in the world that we can’t always predict or avoid,” he said. “This isn’t one of those crises.”

In an effort to break the logjam, Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, called on Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, to meet with him on Friday to try to resolve to the stalemate, given the failure of House Republicans to advance their own budget proposal.

“My door is open,” Mr. Reid said as the Senate convened. “I will listen to any idea to get this done in a way that prevents a default and a dangerous downgrade to America’s credit rating. Time is short, and too much is at stake, to waste even one more minute.

“The last train is leaving the station,” he said. “This is our last chance to avert default.”

It appears that the Senate will be in session around the clock this weekend.

The Democrats said they would file a motion on Friday that would start the Senate debate, running down the procedural clock while Republicans, presumably, filibustered against the Reid proposal. The first vote on breaking the filibuster would come shortly after midnight Saturday. Unless the Democrats can win over enough Republicans to cut off debate and move to approving the Reid bill or some variant, the Republicans would be forced to hold the floor continuously, awaiting some kind of deal.

Mr. McConnell, who had been working with Mr. Reid on a fallback plan, abandoned that attempt and has been supporting the effort by Mr. Boehner to push through a proposal that would raise the debt limit in two stages — an approach flatly rejected by Senate Democrats and the White House even before it was toughened with the latest demand for a constitutional amendment.

Mr. McConnell, too, came to the Senate floor on Friday and offered little indication that he was ready to deal, accusing Democrats of devoting recent days to undermining the House plan. “Our Democratic friends in the Senate have offered no solutions to the crisis that can pass either chamber,” he said.

Mr. Reid said he would be making changes to his measure to attract more support but made clear that he considered the Senate plan the final effort to avert a default next week.

“There will be no time left to vote on another bill or consider another option here in the Senate,” he said. “None.”

Mr. Reid said he had also had a “sobering” conversation on Friday with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner about the consequences of a default.

“It is really precarious for our country,” he said.

Until now, the White House and Senate Democratic leaders had been waiting for the House to act before making their next move with an eye on the Tuesday deadline set by the Treasury Department for raising the debt ceiling or facing the possibility that the government would not be able to meet all its financial obligations.
Failure to pass his proposal would have represented a significant defeat for Mr. Boehner, the first-year speaker who has invested significant political capital in trying to get his fractious majority behind the legislation, which had the strong support of the entire leadership team.

Facing that prospect, he adjusted his proposal to the right, and his opposition within the caucus evaporated.

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