Partisan Standoff Dogs Debt-Ceiling Negotiations

After days of intense negotiations, lawmakers appear no closer to a deal on raising the federal debt limit. After yet another meeting Thursday, President Obama encouraged congressional leaders to go back to their parties and gauge the rank-and-files' willingness to make a deal.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

President Obama hasn't had much luck with Republicans in Congress. He's been hosting Republicans and Democrats all week at the White House, but there's still no deal on raising the federal debt limit. After yet another meeting last night, Mr. Obama encouraged congressional leaders to go back to their parties and gauge the willingness of rank-and-file members to make a deal.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama took his case to three different local TV outlets -bypassing the national media. Speaking to NBC's Washington affiliate, the president warned that time is running out.

President BARACK OBAMA: What's required here in Washington is that politicians understand, now is not the time to play games, now is not the time to posture, now is the time to do what's right by the country.

We've got NPR's Andrea Seabrook here to talk about where things stand.

Good morning, Andrea.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Good morning, Mary Louise.

KELLY: All right. So bring us up to speed on the latest. What else do we know about what actually happened at last night's meeting - the latest one.

SEABROOK: Well, we reporters got readouts from all different sides of the meeting. The White House described it as cordial, and of course - this is senior officials in the White House. The president was outlining the options. There were key cabinet figures in the room, giving sort of last speeches on what the possibilities are. Top GOP aides described as composed and polite. Apparently speaker John Boehner said that Barack Obama hasn't offered enough, at this point, that would solve the debt crisis.

The president gave all of the leaders 24 to 36 hours to find a deal. Go back to your voters, go back to your people and figure out what can pass. And if they can't get something, if they can't all come back with the bottom-line in that time, he'll call another meeting this weekend. And he and Vice-President Biden and the president's staff will be on call, apparently, this weekend.

KELLY: And you said President Obama laid out the options as he sees them at this point. And he's rejected any kind of short-term deal, anything that would have to be renegotiated all over again in the future. Is it clear what his bottom-line is?

SEABROOK: Well, that seems to be one of his basic tenets here, is that he's not going to redo this again before the 2012 elections. And, you know, for the most part Republicans seem to have accepted that.

What he wants, what President Obama wants more than anything, is the big deal, he says, which is more than $4 trillion in cuts. But in order to get that deal, the Republicans would have to give on revenues somehow. Since it looks like thats not going to happen, there's also the option, said President Obama, apparently, a substantial deal - which is the $2 trillion deal. But to do that, all sides would have to give a little, says one senior Democratic aide.

And then, you know, there's the question of just something that is not much of a deal. In other words, it would increase the debt limit through the 2012 elections, but it wouldn't do that much to cut spending. And America, the government, would still have a big deficit problem. But that doesn't meet the requirements of speaker John Boehner's expectations that the size of the debt limit increase must match the size of spending cuts.

So this is the impasse that were in right now.

KELLY: OK. And I understand, meanwhile, two top senators - one Republican, Mitch McConnell, and Democrat Harry Reid - are working on their own plan. What is their plan look like?

SEABROOK: Yeah, this is a really interesting thing that's emerging right now. It comes from Mitch McConnell, the minority leader in the Senate, the Republican leader. He has devised this idea that would essentially hand the keys to raising the debt limit over to President Obama, with sort of votes by the two Chambers of Congress to approve or disapprove that. And it would sort of allow the president to go ahead and raise the debt ceiling.

This - everyone is seeing this as sort of a last-minute option in case all else fails. But the politics here doesn't seem likely, that the House would hand keys over to the president when they're not likely to raise the debt ceiling at all.

KELLY: Right. Well, and just quickly, Andrea, I mean I guess what this all comes down to. They've got to come up with some sort of plan that passes the House.

SEABROOK: What can pass the House? What can get through the - especially Tea Party-supported members in the House?

KELLY: Alright, thanks very much.

SEABROOK: My pleasure.

KELLY: Thats NPR congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook.

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