House Republicans gave ground Thursday in the debt ceiling fight by offering to raise the nation’s borrowing limit for six weeks, and the White House said President Obama might sign such a measure to avoid default.
With the barest outlines of a deal on the table, as the partial government shutdown entered its 10th day, Mr. Obama met for more than an hour late Thursday with Speaker John A. Boehner and other Republican leaders at the White House, before the Republicans scurried back to the Capitol to huddle.
“The takeaway from the meeting was our teams are going to be talking further,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.
The White House said the meeting was worthwhile but insisted “no specific determination was made.”
The Republicans proposed a six-week limit increase to the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling in exchange for a White House agreement to talk about a broad set of fiscal issues.
“We’ll just wait and see, because they cannot decide what they want,” he said.
Late in the evening, he set up a key filibuster test vote for Saturday on his preferred option, which would impose a 15-month debt holiday, allowing Mr. Obama to borrow freely until after the 2014 congressional elections.
The mere suggestion of a debt deal by Mr. Boehner sent stock markets soaring Thursday, showing how keenly business leaders are watching the negotiations.
The administration says the government will run out of room to borrow more money on Oct. 17 and will have to resort to paying out of cash on hand.
That probably would mean missing payments to Social Security recipients and veterans, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Congress on Thursday, laying out consequences if the debt limit is fully reached.
He pointedly did not mention halting payments on the debt but said he shouldn’t be forced to choose among other programs.
Still, he declined to say exactly how he would prioritize, leaving vague the exact consequences.
“I think prioritization is just default by another name,” he said.
The debt negotiations have overshadowed the shutdown, which began Oct. 1 when Congress and Mr. Obama were unable to agree on how to fund the government in fiscal year 2014.