Senate GOP leader: Getting close to a debt deal

Senate GOP leader: Getting close to a debt deal

Senate GOP leader: Getting close to a debt deal


by AP

Posted on July 31, 2011 at 9:46 AM

Updated Sunday, Jul 31 at 10:29 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday that negotiators were "very close" to sealing a deal that would cut spending by some $3 trillion while averting the first federal default in the nation's history.

McConnell, appearing on CNN's "State of the Union," said he hoped to soon be able to present to his fellow Republicans an agreement "that they'll consider supporting." That agreement would include raising the debt ceiling through next year's elections in two stages and creating a joint committee of members of Congress that would look at tax and entitlement reform.

Democrats were more cautious in saying that the end of weeks of bitter debate was almost over. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Democratic leadership, told CNN that while "there is no final agreement," there was a sense of relief that the two sides were finally working on a compromise plan.

Senior White House adviser David Plouffe suggested on NBC's "Meet the Press" that negotiations are still focused on how to compel Congress to approve a deficit-cutting plan of tax and entitlement reform later this year.

McConnell said he had talked to both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday. "I particularly appreciate that we are back talking to the only person in American who can sign something into law, and that's the president of the United States," he said.

McConnell said the deal being worked on, while raising the debt ceiling in two stages, would satisfy Obama's demand that there not be another divisive debate before next year's election. The scenario being discussed would raise the debt ceiling unless there is a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress to reject it.

McConnell said that there would be no tax increases in the deal, and White House National Economic Council Chairman Gene Sperling, also on CNN, said there would be no revenue increases over the next year and a half.

Sperling said Obama has presented three principles that the final package must meet: a significant down payment on deficit reduction, major entitlement and tax reform at a later date, and an end to the uncertainty created by the threat of the nation's defaulting on the debt. He said the nation doesn't want to "go through this mess again around the holidays."

Under the proposed agreement, Congress would also have to vote on a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget, a top-flight GOP goal. Unlike a bill approved Friday by the Republican-run House, none of the debt limit increase would be tied to congressional approval of that amendment.

Details of a possible accord began emerging Saturday night after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, R-Nev., said on the Senate floor that the two sides were trying to nail down loose ends and complete an agreement.

"I'm glad to see this move toward cooperation and compromise, and hope it bears fruit," he said.

A Democratic official said that while bargainers were not on the cusp of a deal, one could gel quickly. A Republican said there was consensus on general concepts but cautioned there were no guarantees of a final handshake. Both spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal details of confidential talks.

Any pact would have to quickly pass both chambers of Congress after a rancorous period that has seen the two parties repeatedly belittle each other's efforts to end the standoff.

Even so, the deal under discussion offers wins for both sides. Republicans and their tea party supporters would get spending cuts at least as large as the amount the debt ceiling would grow and avoid any tax increases. For Obama and Democrats, there would be no renewed battle over extending the borrowing limit until after next year's elections.

Under the possible compromise, the debt limit would rise by an initial $1 trillion.

A second, $1.4 trillion increase would be tied to a specially created congressional committee that would have to suggest deficit cuts of a slightly larger amount. If that panel did not act -- or if Congress rejected their recommendations -- automatic spending cuts would be triggered that could affect Medicare and defense spending, two of the most politically sacrosanct programs.

Obama and Democrats have been insisting on a one-shot debt ceiling increase of around $2.4 trillion, enough to last until 2013. Bowing to GOP pressure, they eventually agreed to include an equal amount of spending cuts and dropped their earlier bid for tax increases.

In a bill the House approved Friday -- and the Senate rejected -- Republicans would initially extend federal borrowing authority by $900 billion, accompanied by $917 billion in spending cuts. They would tie a second $1.6 trillion debt limit boost to spending cuts of up to $1.8 trillion and approval of the balanced budget amendment.

The government has exhausted its $14.3 trillion borrowing limit and has paid its bills since May with money freed up by accounting maneuvers.

The Treasury Department has said it will run out of available cash on Tuesday. The administration has warned that an economy-shaking default would follow that could balloon interest rates and wound the world economy.

   Associated Press writer David Espo contributed to this report.
   (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)