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Obama prods Congress on debt deal

Calls on Hill to ‘do something big,’ sets White House talk with leaders

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2011

President Obama on Tuesday called on Congress to "do something big" to reduce the federal budget deficit, spurned talk of a short-term deal with Republicans to raise the debt limit and invited leaders to come Thursday to the White House to revive negotiations.

Mr. Obama said he wants to have a deal done within two weeks in order to leave some breathing room ahead of the looming Aug. 2 deadline, when the Treasury Department says the government will run up against the $14.29 trillion debt ceiling and would be forced to suspend some payments.

Some in Congress have proposed a short-term increase to give all sides more time to work out a solution, while others have said tax increases or cuts to entitlements can't be options. Mr. Obama, though, rejected both stances.

"I've heard reports that there may be some in Congress who want to do just enough to make sure that America avoids defaulting in the short term, but then want to kick the can down the road when it comes to solving the larger problem of our deficit," Mr. Obama said. "I don't share that view."

Moments later, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president would not accept a deal that raises the debt limit for six months.

The president's meeting invitation was accepted by congressional leaders, and it marks an escalation of effort on all sides.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the closed-door meeting is a chance for the president to see that some options cannot be part of a final deal, such as tax increases or more stimulus spending.

"These discussions are not about rich and poor, or an election, but they're about making Washington take the hit and make some tough choices for a change — not the taxpayers and job creators," Mr. McConnell said.

Republican lawmakers want deep spending cuts attached to a vote on the debt ceiling. Many Democrats want to eliminate tax loopholes and find other ways to raise more revenue.

Thursday's summit, which is expected to include two top Democrats and Republicans each from both the House and Senate, is the latest in a series of meetings the White House and members of Congress have called to try to work out a debt deal.

Earlier negotiations with Vice President Joseph R. Biden broke down last month when Republicans said they had reached the point where Mr. Obama himself must get personally involved.

The president said Tuesday that his negotiating team made progress in discussions with lawmakers over the Independence Day weekend, and that he now thinks there are "enough people in each party" to reach a compromise. But Mr. Obama didn't offer any new details on his position, saying he is seeking a "balanced approach" of spending cuts and tax increases.

Even as Republican leaders said they'll attend the meeting, the patience of their party's rank-and-file members was waning for the sort of big, negotiated deal that would likely be dropped in their laps at the end of the secret talks.

"All these things that President Obama is doing right now to make everyone think that we're trying to address it, appointing committees, appointing groups to get together, having the vice president head up this group and the other group, and Republicans and Democrats - all the president has to do is quit spending," said Sen. James B. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican.

In calling the White House meeting, Mr. Obama rejected separate requests by both Democratic and Republican Senate leaders to meet with their respective caucuses this week.

The House returns Wednesday from a nearly two-week Independence Day vacation. Meanwhile, the Senate canceled its own July 4th vacation, scheduled for this week, after Mr. Obama and some Republicans demanded the chamber stay in session to work on a deal.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to those demands late last week, but rather than the budget, he scheduled votes on a resolution authorizing the president to continue with U.S. military action in Libya.

On Tuesday afternoon, under fire again by Republicans, Mr. Reid pivoted once more, announcing the Senate will put off the Libya votes and instead debate a resolution Democrats have written that calls for wealthy taxpayers to be a part of "shared sacrifice."

The measure is nonbinding, so even its passage would amount only to a symbolic step.

The resolution calls for those earning $1 million or more to "make a more meaningful contribution to the deficit-reduction effort."

Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he expects Republicans to offer their own alternatives.

Meanwhile, Republicans in both chambers are preparing for votes later this month on a constitutional amendment requiring the government to balance its budget. That will offer yet another vehicle for a debate over long-term debt.

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