Leaders looking to short-term solution to avert August default
President Obama and House Republicans are taking a harder look at a possible short-term debt ceiling increase to bide time until a bigger deal gets worked out.
Obama and congressional leaders continued scrambling on Wednesday for an endgame to resolve the country's impending debt crisis. And as they did, the White House floated for the first time that Obama might be willing to go along with a short-term compromise and a House Republican leadership aide said the idea is emerging as a real possibility.
"There is no way to reach the August 2 deadline," said the aide, adding that a short-term solution extending until September may be the compromise until a larger deal is worked out.
House GOP leaders have been discussing with Vice President Joe Biden a package of cuts, worth perhaps $1.5 trillion - that could be used as part of a potential deal crafted by Senate leaders that would let Obama raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit. A GOP source tracking the talks said House leaders might also use the cuts in a standalone bill that achieves a short-term extension. Both Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Obama appear newly open to that possibility.
House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Cantor are set to meet at 5 p.m. with Obama at the White House. That get-together is to follow one earlier Wednesday afternoon between the president and House and Senate Democratic leaders.
Obama already had been in contact since Tuesday night with Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
"I'm not going to readout the individual conversations," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Reid said on the Senate floor Wednesday that his talk Tuesday night with Obama was "terrific" and that, in his view, it is now up to Boehner and House Republicans as the August 2 deadline approaches by which Treasury has said the nation will default on some of its bills unless the debt limit is raised.
A lot of the attention Wednesday was being given to the bipartisan "Gang of Six" proposal to cut $3.7 trillion from the deficit, with a number of House Democrats getting more details in briefings at the Capitol. But it includes tax hikes that are opposed by Republicans and cuts to entitlements that many Democrats are against.
House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., who has stalwartly opposed deep cuts to defense spending, for one, sent a memo to Republicans on his panel blasting the Gang of Six proposal's impact on defense spending.
Even if both parties and chambers were to embrace a version of the bipartisan gang's plan, leaders or aides in both parties are questioning whether they can get it passed before the August 2 deadline.
A vote by the Senate on the pending House-passed "cut, cap and balance" bill is expected at the earliest by Saturday, even as Republicans continue to claim it is the only plan actually on the table.
"We are well aware of the deadline, which is why we hope Senator Reid will move quickly to schedule a Senate vote," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
And the fallback plan of Reid and McConnell, even if the Senate took it up Saturday, it could not pass until July 29, if GOP conservatives carry out a threat to filibuster it. That would leave three days for the House to amend the bill, under a scenario aides have sketched, and send it back to the Senate for another vote. If forced to use all cloture time, the Senate could not pass the bill by August 2, aides acknowledge.
Still, despite procedural restrictions, once political differences are overcome Congress has shown in the past it can move fast-such as with the fight over the continuing resolution earlier this year. The talk was increasingly turning to a short-term solution extending until September, House aides said.
And for the first time on Wednesday, White House spokesman Carney said Obama might be be willing to accept such a proposal as a stop-gap to provide more time for details to be worked out on something "more significant."
"If both sides agree on something significant we will support the measures necessary to finalize the details," said Carney.
Right now there are "multiple trains coming into the station," he added of the various options being put forth, but it remains unclear "which train we're going to ride."
Dan Friedman, Katy O'Donnell, Megan Scully contributed to this report.