President Barack Obama said Monday that negotiations with Republicans and Democrats in Congress on an agreement to cut federal deficit spending and raise the government's debt ceiling by August 2 are "making progress." But, there still is no sign of an end to the political fight between the president and Republican congressional leaders.
President Obama's barely audible comment about progress in the talks, in response to a reporter's shouted question in the Rose Garden, came in an atmosphere of intensifying partisan exchanges, and as the White House remains tight lipped about meetings and consultations with congressional leaders.
One of those meetings occurred Sunday when the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, and the House Majority Leader, Republican Eric Cantor, came to the White House.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney described it as part of ongoing conversations, but declined to provide any specifics. Saying there are a "variety of paths" for an agreement, Carney said Mr. Obama remains hopeful that a compromise can be achieved.
"The president remains confident that action will be taken, that the debt ceiling will be raised, that the U.S. will not default on its [debt] obligations," said Carney. "He takes the leaders of Congress of both parties at their word when they say we will not default, Congress will raise the debt ceiling, will take measure so the debt ceiling is raised. So we are proceeding accordingly."
As Carney spoke Monday, Boehner and Cantor issued emails criticizing Mr. Obama's threat to veto a measure set for a Tuesday vote in the Republican-controlled House.
Analysts say the Cut, Cap and Balance Act is a symbolic move by House Republicans because it stands little chance of passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate. It would require immediate government spending reductions, future spending limits, and amend the U.S. Constitution to require a balanced federal budget.
The White House calls the legislation "an empty political statement [with] unrealistic policy goals" that would undercut the government's ability to meet commitments to the nation's elderly, middle class families and vulnerable Americans.
Although he is involved in quiet negotiations with the president on the debt issue, Senate Minority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell spoke in support of the House Republicans' legislation and criticized Mr. Obama.
"Republicans have tried to persuade the president of the need for a course correction," said McConnell. "But weeks of negotiation have shown that his commitment to big government is simply too great to lead to the kind of long-term reform that we need to put us on a path to balance and economic growth."
McConnell and Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid have been working with the White House on one option to resolve the debt issue, which reports say would involve $1.5 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, while creating a new congressional panel to examine further deficit reduction.
House Speaker Boehner on Monday accused Mr. Obama of being unwilling to cut spending and restrain the growth of government, adding that the president needs to "demonstrate more courage."
Announcing that the Senate will remain in session until the debt ceiling issue is resolved, Majority Leader Reid challenged what he called "irresponsible Republicans" who maintain that failing to raise the debt ceiling would not have disastrous effects.
"Those who say this crisis would be a blip on the radar are wrong," said Reid. "Default would be a plague that could haunt, and would haunt, our nation for years to come."
President Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, told reporters that contrary to what some congressional leaders say "for public consumption," all of those involved in the negotiations are unanimous on the need to reach a debt ceiling solution before the August 2 deadline.
Carney added that even if the biggest possible debt ceiling package advocated by the president is not achieved, there will be a "fall back position" in which Congress will act to avert a government default on its obligations.