Thursday, July 21, 2011

White House Moves to Give Congress More Time to Strike Dept Deal

The White House is moving to give Congress a bit more time to not only strike an elusive deficit-reduction deal but also write and pass the legislation, as lawmakers weigh several competing options against a ticking clock. 
While the Obama administration has set Aug. 2 as the deadline for hiking the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, officials have said lawmakers would probably have to reach an agreement by the end of this week to allow time for the formalities of preparing legislation for a final vote. 
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said there are "multiple trains heading toward the station" and lawmakers just have to figure out which one to ride. But to sustain the analogy, each of those trains has mechanical difficulties and lawmakers have not come together - in public, anyway - on which proposal to back. 
Carney said that given the constraints, the president would be willing to support a "very short-term extension" if a broader deal is reached by the deadline and lawmakers just need more time to work out the details. President Obama all along has said he opposes a short-term deal - something Republicans had floated earlier. Carney reiterated that Obama's opposition stands to "a toll booth kind of series of provisions that temporarily or in a limited fashion raise the debt ceiling." But he said the president would make an "exception" if a deal is reached "to allow a bit of extra time for a bill to work its way through the legislative process." 
The position gives Congress a little breathing room but doesn't bring them closer to a deal.
Obama met Wednesday, separately, with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders and it was unclear afterward where things stood. 
Barring a sudden change of plans, the Senate is expected to begin debate Thursday on the House Republicans' "cut, cap and balance" plan. That plan would cut and cap federal spending and require Congress to approve a balanced-budget amendment in exchange for a debt-ceiling increase. The bill already passed the House but Democrats are vowing to defeat it in the Senate.
As a more palatable alternative, the White House has been talking up the bipartisan "Gang of Six" proposal to cut deficits by $3.7 trillion over the next decade and raise the debt ceiling. 
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed a willingness to look at it, but not everyone is sold and the White House acknowledged Wednesday that the proposal doesn't even exist in bill form. 
"All the details aren't even known yet," Carney said Wednesday, declining to put the president on record for or against the plan. 
All the while, senators are working on a fallback plan to allow Obama to seek a series of debt-ceiling increases, crafted in such a way that would require a two-thirds majority in Congress to stop him. It would also come with a smaller package of spending cuts and call for the creation of a new deficit-reduction commission. 
But conservative lawmakers dislike that approach and are pledging to oppose it. 
Meanwhile, the White House endured some mocking from the GOP for opening the door to a short-term deal. After Obama scolded House Majority Leader Eric Cantor last week and told him not to "call my bluff" on a short-term deal, Cantor's office sent out an email Wednesday titled: "Bluff Called?"

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