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Obama Will Jump Into Budget Talks

Obama Will Jump Into Budget Talks

By Alexis Simendinger - July 5, 2011

President Obama and congressional leaders from both parties will meet at the White House on Thursday in yet another phase of negotiations to broker a deal to lower the deficit while also preventing the country from defaulting on spending obligations when government authority to continue borrowing runs out Aug. 2.

Obama made the announcement during a short statement he delivered from the White House briefing room Tuesday. He invited eight lawmakers -- the top leaders representing Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate -- to join him in trying to "drive towards a final agreement" in "the next two weeks," he said.

That timetable reflects White House concerns that inking any viable deal that forces "both parties to get out of their comfort zones," as Obama put it, will still require weeks to fine tune, write into legislative language, undergo scrutiny by the Congressional Budget Office, and secure enough votes to ensure passage in both chambers of Congress.

The president said he opposes a short-term patch for the debt ceiling to buy more time. Instead, he vowed to continue shooting for a more ambitious final agreement that raises the $14.3 trillion cap on borrowing, along with a separate pact to achieve "trillions" of dollars in deficit reduction over "the next decade" through a "balanced" blend of spending cuts to non-defense and Pentagon discretionary programs; cost savings in entitlement programs, such as Medicare; and savings from tax code changes.

Congressional negotiators in meetings led by Vice President Joe Biden had circled warily around $1 trillion in possible cuts over 10 years, plus $400 billion in tax changes advocated by the White House and generally opposed by Republicans. Those talks broke off more than two weeks ago.

Republicans repeated their insistence on Tuesday that any push by Obama or Democrats to raise taxes would become a deal breaker, no matter what the president offered to attract GOP support.

Last week in his White House news conference, the president struck a defensive and combative tone, challenging lawmakers to stay in Washington to "do their jobs" to avert a U.S. default in August. But on Tuesday, after unspecified "meetings and conversations" during the July 4 weekend, the president felt "pleased with the progress made so far," spokesman Jay Carney said, and Obama believes now is the time to personally lead what the White House hopes will become a final round of talks.

Carney told reporters several times that the president was "reaching for a big deal." The White House definition of a big deal appeared to be 1) raising the debt ceiling for a period longer than six months and at a dollar level to be determined by Congress (Treasury has suggested that another $2.4 trillion in borrowing authority could tide the government over through the end of 2012); 2) bipartisan enactment of a deficit-cutting deal budgeted over a decade that achieves unspecified "trillions" of dollars in belt-tightening; and 3) budget changes spread over all the major categories of the federal budget, including discretionary spending, revenues and entitlements.

Any potential pact under discussion this year that would raise taxes and close loopholes (opposed by the GOP), cut federal support for programs favored by Democrats (such as Medicare and Medicaid), and trim spending for defense and agricultural programs has attracted opponents galore and found few public champions.

"It's my hope that everybody is going to leave their ultimatums at the door, that we'll all leave our political rhetoric at the door, and that we're going to do what's best for our economy and do what's best for our people," Obama said during his five-minute statement.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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