- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 12, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — The top two Republicans in Congress sought Tuesday to put the onus on President Obama for failure to resolve a fight over how to increase the government’s borrowing authority. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said a deal with Mr. Obama is “probably unattainable,” and House Speaker John A. Boehner said the specter of default is “his problem.”

The unusually blunt and combative language came just hours ahead of another White House meeting aimed at finding an accommodation on a package of spending cuts to accompany an increase the debt limit. It further complicated an already convulsive bargaining environment, with the Aug. 2 debt limit extension deadline fast approaching.

Mr. McConnell maintained that White House offers to cut long-term spending amount to “smoke and mirrors” and directly challenged Mr. Obama‘s leadership. “After years of discussions and months of negotiations,” Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said, “I have little question that as long as this president is in the Oval Office, a real solution is probably unattainable.”

Said Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican: “This debt limit increase is his problem, and I think it’s time for him to lead by putting his plan on the table — something that Congress can pass. Where is the president’s plan? When’s he going to lay his cards on the table?”

Mr. McConnell charged in a Senate floor speech that Democrats and the Obama administration were relying on budget gimmicks to give the “appearance of serious belt-tightening.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Republican reaction Tuesday “was unfortunate.”

“Sometimes there’s rhetoric put out there in public that doesn’t match what has often been very constructive and respectful conversations in meetings,” Mr. Carney told reporters. “By fits and starts, the process continues to move forward,” he added.

Responding to Mr. Boehner’s comment, Mr. Carney pointed out that it is Congress‘ responsibility to vote for an increase in the debt ceiling.

“The president doesn’t have a vote in this,” he said. “It’s Congress that has to act.” He said Mr. Obama will be in office for at least another 18 months, and “the American people expect Congress to work with him.”

Mr. Obama has been pushing for $4 trillion in a 10-year deficit reduction proposal in hopes of freeing votes to increase the government’s borrowing authority. But Mr. Boehner, after seeking to forge a deal of that magnitude, told the president that a smaller deal of $2 trillion to $2.4 trillion was more realistic. A deal is essential to win Republican votes to increase the nation’s debt ceiling by Aug. 2, or risk a government default.

Mr. McConnell said Republicans will “do the responsible thing and ensure the government doesn’t default on its obligations.”

But he dismissed the cuts the administration and Democrats have proposed. Republicans say Democrats want most of the spending cuts to be concentrated in the later years of a deal. They say that despite promising cuts of $1.1 trillion from Cabinet agency operating budgets, the White House is insisting on a two-year freeze in such spending at the current level of $1.05 trillion.

Mr. McConnell’s and Mr. Boehner’s heightened criticisms came as Mr. Obama increasingly has used public appearances, including a news conference Monday and a network television interview Tuesday, to take his case to the public. Mr. Obama has argued that both Democrats and Republicans need to make politically painful decisions and has portrayed Republicans as intransigent.

As the debate intensified, both sides looked for signs, subtle or otherwise, that negotiations were souring.

In an interview with CBS on Tuesday, Mr. Obama seemed to back off his unequivocal assurances that the debt ceiling would be raised, thus avoiding a first-ever default.

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