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Obama Wants "Final Offers" From Debt Ceiling Negotiators

Obama Wants "Final Offers" From Debt Ceiling Negotiators

By Alexis Simendinger - July 15, 2011

If you thought Washington was drawing closer to a budget solution, let's just say it was hard to be sure.

On Friday morning, President Obama urged House and Senate leaders to send him final offers to lift the nation's cap on borrowing and reduce the deficit over the next decade, while Republican leaders met privately with administration emissaries on Capitol Hill. House Republicans hatched their own strategy for floor action next week, while across the Capitol, Senate leaders continued building a separate approach.

Obama -- looking relaxed and professing to be "hopeful" during his third news conference in 17 days -- laid out at least three options he said are on the negotiating table. He expressed lukewarm enthusiasm for a hybrid option spearheaded by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, with help from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"I am still pushing for us to achieve a big deal," the president said. "But what I also said to the group is, if we can't do the biggest deal possible, then let's still be ambitious; let's still try to at least get a down payment on deficit reduction. We could still send a signal that we are serious about this problem."

House Republican leaders announced they will return Monday to act on legislation they call "cut, cap and balance," which would lift the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion while cutting spending by an equivalent amount to lower the deficit, contingent on adoption of a constitutional balanced budget amendment.

Asked to comment, Obama said, "You'll probably see the House vote on a couple of things just to make political statements. But if you're trying to get to $2.4 trillion without any revenue, then you are effectively gutting a whole bunch of domestic spending that is going to be too burdensome and is not going to be something that I would support."

The president accused lawmakers of dodging important budget decisions by erecting political distractions. "We don't need more studies," he said. "We don't need a balanced budget amendment. We simply need to make these tough choices and be willing to take on our [political] bases."

A potential McConnell-Reid proposal to allow the debt limit to rise under Obama's executive authority also remained a work in progress Friday. As the two Senate leaders and their aides this week described the concept, it could become a fallback to allow the government to resume borrowing, adopt a bundle of around $1.5 trillion in spending cuts -- and perhaps create a new panel of lawmakers to recommend additional deficit reduction.

The kitchen-sink approach is intended to allow lawmakers to vote for and against elements of the plan yet still end up averting default. Support from House Republicans is a question mark because conservatives are so opposed to new borrowing.

Publicly at least, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, along with other House Republicans, will attempt next week to lift the debt ceiling, but peg action to a balanced budget amendment that would have to be ratified by three-fifths of the states. The amendment is a conservative evergreen intended to serve as a proxy for congressional budget discipline. But it would not extricate lawmakers from the debt-default deadline of Aug. 2.

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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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