Despondent leaders try to put debt talks on track

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Hours after another White House meeting, debt talks have shifted to Congress, where top leaders were meeting Saturday evening — without President Obama — to try to come up with a deal that would raise the government’s debt limit before an Aug. 2 deadline.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, convened the late-day meeting after lawmakers told Mr. Obama earlier they would try to find agreement this weekend.

“Over this weekend, Congress will forge a responsible path forward,” Mr. Boehner said in a statement after the morning White House meeting, which lasted less than an hour and didn’t seem to bode well for progress.

Mr. Obama called the White House meeting after Mr. Boehner said late Friday he was pulling out of talks with the president, arguing he had sprung a last-minute demand for 50 percent more tax hikes — something Republicans couldn’t stomach.

The White House meeting broke up after less than an hour and with none of the participants speaking to reporters, though most issued statements saying they all want to find common ground.

Still, Democrats drew certain lines.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the government’s borrowing limit must be raised enough to last through the 2012 elections — a prospect that left Republicans grumbling that the country’s borrowing situation was being subjugated to election politics.

Mr. Reid ruled out a short-term increase.

Mr. Boehner, meanwhile, has demands of his own: that whatever the dollar amount of a debt increase, it be matched at least dollar-for-dollar by spending cuts.

Mr. Boehner and Mr. Obama had appeared to be circling around a deal that would have included about $800 billion in new revenue by ending deductions, but House Republicans accused the White House of a late demand for another $400 billion in tax increases in exchange for spending cuts nearing $2 trillion.

“When you get into these negotiations, sometimes it’s good to back away from the tree and take a look at the forest. And yesterday afternoon, after the president demanded more revenue in this package, I came back away from the tree to take a look at the forest,” Mr. Boehner told reporters.

He said he would instead try to work out an agreement with Mr. Reid.

But Mr. Obama said Mr. Boehner was ignoring the wishes of both voters and of Republicans who, as part of a bipartisan group last week, proposed bigger tax increases coupled with spending cuts.

“It is hard to understand why Speaker Boehner would walk away from this kind of deal, and frankly, if you look at the commentary out there, there are a lot of Republicans that are puzzled as to why it couldn’t get done,” Mr. Obama told reporters Friday evening.

After having failed to meet repeated deadlines Mr. Obama set for getting a deal done, all sides are racing to beat Aug. 2, which is when the Treasury Department says the government will bump up against its $14.29 trillion debt ceiling, and will have to suspend payments.

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