Debt ceiling debate shifts to Congress, bargain in play
Failure to reach compromise has focused attention on a fallback plan under discussion by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. That plan would give Obama greater authority to raise the debt ceiling while setting procedures in motion that could lead to federal spending cuts.
Obama insisted the public was on his side in wanting a "balanced approach" that would mix spending cuts and the tax increases opposed by Republicans.
"The American people are sold," he said. "The problem is that members of Congress are dug in ideologically."
He renewed his pitch for a major package of some $4 trillion, about three-quarters of which would be spending cuts along with about $1 trillion in new revenue.
"We have a chance to stabilize America's finances for a decade or 15 years or 20 years if we're willing to seize the moment," the president said, adding later that everyone must be "willing to compromise."
"We don't need more studies, we don't need a balanced budget amendment," Obama said. He said lawmakers simply needed to be able to make tough decisions and stand up to their political bases.
The outline of the McConnell plan was winning unusual bipartisan support even as some conservatives voiced misgivings.
Under the plan, which would require approval by the House and Senate, Obama would have the power to order an increase in the debt limit of up to $2.5 trillion over the coming year unless both the House and Senate voted by two-thirds margins to deny him. Reid and McConnell were trying to work out ways to guarantee that Congress would also get to vote on sizable deficit reductions. The plan also could be linked to immediate spending cuts already identified by White House and congressional negotiators.
Obama offered measured praise: "It is constructive to say that if Washington operates as usual and can't get something done let's at least avert Armageddon."
But the president said that McConnell's approach only addressed the pressing issue of the debt ceiling, not the country's longer-term deficit woes, and he wanted to handle that as well.
Obama was asked why he still had hopes that the White House negotiations would provide any results, given the lack of success so far.
"I always have hope. Don't you remember my campaign?" he said.
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