- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2011

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor pushed back Tuesday against the suggestion that Republicans would accept a temporary deal to raise the country’s $14.3 trillion deficit ceiling.

“I don’t see how multiple votes on a debt-ceiling increase can help get us to where we want to go, which is, we want big reforms, big spending cuts and big changes to how this town works,” he said. “I’m not so sure that if we can’t make the tough decisions now why we would be making those tough decisions later.”

Bipartisan talks between the White House and Congress on increasing the nation’s credit limit have reached a crucial stage, as negotiators have six weeks left to strike a complicated and potentially controversial deal before the government risks defaulting on its loans.

“It’s crunch time in those meetings,” said Mr. Cantor, a Virginia Republican and one of six members of Congress who have been meeting regularly with Vice President Joseph R. Biden to hammer out a deal.

“We have hit the point of which we are at some really tough stuff, big numbers,” said Mr. Cantor.

The so-called Biden commission met Tuesday for the 10th time behind closed doors since early May to hammer out a deal to bump up the $14.294 trillion debt ceiling - the government’s legal limit on how much it can borrow to pay for its operations. The group has set aside time to meet three more times this week.

And while the participants say the talks have been constructive, they have yet to agree on several key sticking points regarding potential tax increases, spending cuts and how long the deal should last.

“We’re slogging through some very tough issues” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, as he left the meeting at the Capitol. It was “a very serious conversation trying to bear down on some big issues.”

Congressional leaders of both parties, along with the White House, Treasury Department, economists and Wall Street agree the debt ceiling must be raised. Exceeding the limit could lead to the U.S. defaulting on its loans, a scenario that would damage the nation’s credit rating and could trigger another financial crisis.

They also worry that if the stalemate continues deep into July, the financial markets - fearing a deal won’t be made - would react negatively.

The government hit the debt limit last month, though Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said he could juggle accounts until Aug. 2.

Republicans have pushed for spending cuts to equal the amount the ceiling is raised - at least $2 trillion. GOP leaders also insist that any deal not include tax increases, a position Democrats and many economists say is unrealistic.

Some Republicans have suggested a series of short-term debt limit extensions if the talks fail to reach a compromise soon.

But House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said it would be wrong to “kick the can down the road,” suggesting a deal that runs until January 2013.

A “temporary [deal] is better than none, but temporary continues to roil the markets,” said Mr. Hoyer, who isn’t part of the Biden panel. A temporary deal would “send the message to the world, to lenders and to our own businesses here in this country that the Congress cannot come to grips with doing what it responsibly knows it must do.”

And House Republican leaders would face the added burden of selling any compromise to several tea party-backed members who say raising the debt ceiling would lead to unnecessary government spending.

Mr. Cantor said that, while “none of us, myself included, came to Congress to increase the nation’s credit limit,” the situation “is an opportunity for us to try to right-size the spending direction” and to “stop spending money the way we have.”

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