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As Clock Ticks, a ‘Big’ Deal on Deficit Remains Elusive

July 15, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
There were no White House deficit talks Friday, but the behind-the-scenes maneuvering continued. In a public statement, President Obama called for Congress to produce a "serious plan" over the weekend.

RAY SUAREZ: There were no White House deficit talks today. Instead, the president called for Congress to produce a serious plan over the weekend.

He spoke at his third news conference in the last two weeks.

U. S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What I have tried to emphasize is we have a unique opportunity to do something big.

RAY SUAREZ: But after five straight days of talks with congressional leaders, President Obama conceded today that something big remains elusive.

BARACK OBAMA: We are obviously running out of time. And so what I have said to the members of Congress is that, you need, over the next 24 to 36 hours, to give me some sense of what your plan is to get the debt ceiling raised.

If — if they show me a serious plan, I’m ready to move, even it requires some tough decisions on my part.

RAY SUAREZ: The president had previously insisted on extending the debt ceiling through 2012, past next year’s election. But after Thursday’s talks, he settled for asking congressional leaders to review three options with their members.

The first, the so-called grand bargain that Mr. Obama favors, would cut deficits by about $4 trillion, including spending cuts and new tax revenues. A medium-range plan would aim to reduce the deficit by about half that amount. The smallest option would cut between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, without increased tax revenue or any Medicare and Medicaid cuts.

But after a closed-door caucus at the Capitol, House Republicans sounded in no mood to pick one of those options.

REP. DARRELL ISSA R-Calif., Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman: Quite frankly, members of Congress are getting tired of what the president won’t do and what the president wants.

RAY SUAREZ: Speaker John Boehner tried to leave the door open to compromise, but he complained the president and congressional Democrats had offered nothing worth considering.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER R-Ohio, Speaker of the House: I don’t want to preclude any chance of coming to an agreement. But they have been unwilling to put a real plan on the table. And without serious spending cuts, without real reform of our entitlement programs, this problem is not going to be solved.

RAY SUAREZ: Instead, House Republicans planned to vote next week on cutting spending by $2.4 trillion over 10 years and adopting a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. The president had already rejected that approach.

BARACK OBAMA: If you’re trying to get to $2.4 trillion without any revenue, then you are effectively gutting a whole bunch of domestic spending that is going to be too burdensome and is not going to be something that I would support.

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Obama insisted he would support tough choices, including means testing for Medicare, if Republicans reconsider their staunch opposition to tax increases.

BARACK OBAMA: The problem is members of Congress are dug in ideologically into various positions because they boxed themselves in with previous statements.

And, you know, so this — this is not a matter of the American people knowing what the right thing to do is. This is a matter of Congress doing the right thing and reflecting the will of the American people.

RAY SUAREZ: With an August 2 deadline nearing, there was increased focus on a Senate plan crafted by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid. It would let the president extend the borrowing limit on his own, but include votes on spending cuts.

Meanwhile, a similar drama reached an apparent conclusion in Minnesota, as leaders bridged their budget divide. The compromise between Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders could end a state government shutdown that’s entering its third week.

GOV. MARK DAYTON D- Minn.,: Expect to do everything around the clock because of the urgency of getting the lights back on and Minnesota back to work as soon as possible. And I think that will be very soon.

KURT ZELLERS R-Minn., State Representative: It was about making sure that we get a deal that we all can be disappointed in, but it’s a deal that is done, a budget that will balanced, a state that will be back to work.

RAY SUAREZ: State lawmakers could sign off on that deal in the next few days.