WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama gave lawmakers 24 to 36 hours to finalize the path forward for raising the debt ceiling during the latest high-stakes White House meeting on Thursday.
"It’s decision time," the president told attendees, according to the notes of a Democratic official. "We need concrete plans to move this forward."
As the Aug. 2 debt ceiling deadline approaches, Obama and congressional leadership from both parties met for their sixth straight day of talks. There were no verbal altercations between the president and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), as there had been the day before. In fact, multiple Democratic sources relayed that Cantor barely spoke.
"The meeting was mostly a presentation by the administration, so several participants didn't talk, including Cantor and McConnell," explained a senior Republican aide.
Instead, the attending parties went through the four or so options that remain on the table, with respect to resolving the ever-winding debt ceiling saga. The president again pushed leaders to consider the biggest package possible, one that includes trillions in spending cuts, entitlement reforms and added revenues to help round out the deal. As part of the package he also called for lawmakers to include an extension of unemployment insurance (offset by cuts elsewhere) and the payroll tax cut -- two of his top domestic priorities.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who earlier in the day had warned lawmakers that the government was "running out of time" to negotiate, again stressed to attendees the perils of not just failing to raise the debt ceiling but of not reducing the nation's deficit and debt. Office of Management and Budget committee chair Jacob Lew, along with top economic adviser Gene Sperling "walked through proposals for getting savings out of health care entitlement programs, tax expenditures and budget process changes," according to a Democratic official familiar with the talks.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), meanwhile, reiterated his position that the administration's approach was insufficient for resolving the nation's debt problem. "He continued to press the White House to get serious about reducing spending in a meaningful way," a Republican aide said.
If it all sounded familiar, it's because these are the exact same arguments each side has been making for days, if not weeks.
That said, while the broad approaches remain the same, Thursday's meetings did mark an end to the process in which both sides pinpointed specific, mutually agreed-to spending cuts -- a process that started with talks spearheaded by Vice President Joseph Biden. That, however, does leadership little good if there remains (as lawmakers predict) no path for passage in Congress. And as the president called a close to the meeting, he left an instruction for attendees to survey their caucus on Friday to see what was possible, politically.
There will not be a seventh straight day of talks on Friday, though there will be, reportedly, another presidential news conference. Obama informed those in the room that he may call another meeting during the weekend if he "hasn’t heard back from them with a plan of action," a Democratic official said.
Those plans, it increasingly appears, will not include a deal that fails to get the government through the 2012 elections.
"A short-term solution is not something I will sign," Obama told lawmakers on Thursday.
Still an option, however, is a back-up plan being crafted by the Senate's two leaders -- Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The minority and majority leader have been working on a proposal that would take the $1.5 to $1.7 trillion in agreed-to cuts and attach it to legislation that would give Obama the authority to raise the debt ceiling while simply suggesting (but not signing off on) additional spending cuts.
The proposal, a Democratic official said, received "very little discussion" at Thursday's meeting. "However, this remains a fallback option."
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