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July 11, 2011

Obama, Lawmakers Meet for Third Day on US Debt

by Dan Robinson

Negotiations between President Barack Obama and Republican lawmakers appear deadlocked, with Republican leaders sharply criticizing Mr. Obama's approach in talks about slashing U.S. budget deficits and raising the government's borrowing limit.  

The president sat down with House and Senate Democratic and Republican leaders Tuesday for the third time in as many days.

Just hours before, one of the eight congressional participants, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, delivered a blunt speech about the negotiations.

Saying that he questioned whether resolving the country's fiscal problems is possible with Mr. Obama is president, McConnell offered this assessment of where the talks stand:

"In my view, the president has presented us with three choices - smoke and mirrors, tax hikes or default [on the national debt]," said McConnell. "Republicans choose none of the above.  I had hoped to do good, but I refuse to do harm."

McConnell said Republicans would "do the responsible thing" and ensure that the federal government does not default on its debt obligations.  Later, he described what he called a "last choice" option, which would involve Congress passing legislation to authorize President Obama to formally request debt ceiling increases into 2012, but require him to list specific spending cuts.

The Treasury Department has set an August 2 deadline by which Congress must act to raise the federal debt ceiling.  Any compromise would need to occur well before then to allow for the necessary steps to enact the legislation.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Mr. Obama would continue pressing "until the very end" for the biggest possible deal, which at one point involved proposals for as much as $4 trillion in spending cuts and revenue sources.

Carney said the tone of the discussions has not been contentious, but "constructive and respectful," adding that a compromise would not be achieved if all sides listen to their most ideological members.

"We will not get from here to there, either side, if we heed only the calls of our most ideological supporters," said Carney. "We have to acknowledge that maximalist positions will not prevail."  

Earlier in the day, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said his fellow Republicans are still waiting for a specific plan from Mr. Obama.

"Where's the president's plan?  When's he going to lay his cards on the table?  This debt limit increase is his problem," said Boehner. "And I think it's time for him to lead by putting his plan on the table, something that the Congress can pass."

President Obama has said he will call congressional leaders back to the White House every day until a deficit and debt agreement is reached.

Meanwhile, the president again used the media to press Congress for a compromise.  In an interview with CBS News, Mr. Obama warned that failure to raise the $14.3 trillion national debt limit by August 2 could result in millions of Americans not receiving Social Security and other payments, saying the government would lack sufficient funds.