The top two Republicans in the U.S. Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, have voiced optimism that Washington will reach a deal and avoid a potentially catastrophic debt default.
In a press conference Saturday, Boehner urged President Barack Obama to reach agreement with Republican leaders in Congress, saying if he does so, Democrats will fall in line. He accused Mr. Obama of not acting on a plan that could have ended the impasse about a week ago.
Boehner and McConnell spoke as President Obama met at the White House with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
U.S. political leaders have until Tuesday to raise the country’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, or risk triggering the first debt default in U.S. history. But they remain deadlocked on how best to raise the borrowing limit and cut government spending.
On Saturday, the Republican-led House of Representatives easily defeated a debt plan produced by Reid, just as the Senate Friday night had rejected a plan put forth by Boehner and narrowly approved by the House.
Senator Reid is planning a Senate test vote on his plan early Sunday. The measure, supported by the White House, would cut government spending by $2.5 trillion and raise the legal limit on borrowing enough to fund the government through the end of 2012.
Reid needs 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to end debate on his measure and move to a final vote on Monday. But 43 opposition Republicans said they would not vote to cut off debate, lending still more uncertainty to the political standoff.
Senate Democratic leaders are hoping to complete their action on a debt limit increase by early Monday, just before U.S. stock markets reopen for the week. The deadlocked Washington debt negotiations have roiled investors, with the key Dow Jones Industrial Average of stocks dropping more this past week than it has in any week in the last 14 months.
Republicans are calling for a short-term fix and new consideration of the debt ceiling in early 2012, while Democrats are pushing for a plan to cover the nation’s borrowing needs through next year and past the presidential and congressional elections in November 2012.
Boehner’s plan called for an immediate $900 billion increase of the U.S. debt ceiling in exchange for more than $900 billion in spending cuts over the next 10 years. It offers to raise the debt limit again early next year if Washington can work out more spending cuts and send to the country’s 50 states a proposal for a constitutional amendment requiring the national government to balance its budget each year.
In his weekly address Saturday, President Obama said the two sides must reach a compromise by the Tuesday deadline so the U.S. will have the ability to pay its bills on time. He said the parties are not that far apart on the issues involved, and that the results of failing to make a deal would be “inexcusable.”
Mr. Obama said the Republican plan pushed by Boehner would hold the economy captive to Washington politics once again by forcing the nation to relive the debt crisis in just a few months.