Obama Calls For At Least A 'Down Payment' On Deficit

President Obama and House Republicans have clashed in negotiations over how — or whether — to raise the federal borrowing limit, known as the debt ceiling. Obama had a news conference Friday, his second this week to discuss the spending cuts and revenue increases he thinks are needed to fix the problem. Mary Louise Kelly talks with NPR's Brian Naylor about the news conference and the partisan battle.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

President Obama and Republicans in the House have clashed in negotiations all this week over how or whether to raise the federal borrowing limit, known as the debt ceiling. And the clock is ticking, with default on the nation's debt looming. The president is holding a news conference at the White House right now, his second this week, to discuss the spending cuts and revenue increases he thinks are needed to fix the problem.

President BARACK OBAMA: I am still pushing for us to achieve a big deal, but what I also said to the group is, if we can't do the biggest deal possible, then let's still be ambitious, let's still try to at least get a down payment on deficit reduction.

KELLY: We're joined in the studio now by NPR's Brain Naylor. Good morning, Brian.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Good morning, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So we just heard President Obama say he would still like to see a big deal. Did he have any progress to report this morning?

NAYLOR: Well, I wouldn't exactly call it progress. He didn't announce any impending agreement. He said that he was encouraged that Congressional leaders have reiterated their desire not to have the U.S. go into default. So I guess that's some progress.

KELLY: Progress of a sort, sure.

NAYLOR: Of a sort. But after a week-long series of meetings, and meetings before that even, at the White House and among the Congressional leaders, there still doesn't seem to be any sense that anyone is coalescing around a particular position or a particular option. Things are still kind of still there's still no agreement in sight.

KELLY: He said he's holding out hope though. And then he got a laugh. He said, Don't you remember my campaign?

NAYLOR: Right. All about hope. And that's about it right now, I think.

KELLY: Now, meanwhile, across town House Speaker Republican John Boehner met this morning with his party's rank and file. He then came out and held a press conference of his own, and here's a little taste of what he had to say.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; Speaker of the House): We asked the president to lead. We asked him to put forward a plan. Not a speech. A real plan. And he hasn't. We will.

NAYLOR: And what Speaker Boehner is talking about is a plan that the House is going to take up next week, calling for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, as well as capping spending, as well as putting curbs on future spending growth. It's called the cap, cut and balance approach. It's going to require 2/3 of the House and Senate to approve and then of course would go to the states. I mean it's not likely that this is going to have any chance of becoming law, but it's a chance for the House Republicans to go on record once again in favor of big cuts in spending and putting a cap on taxes. There would be - a super-majority would be required to increase taxes down the road.

Basically, the two sides seem to be, you know, more or less hardening their positions, despite all of the talk that's been going on.

KELLY: And just quickly, remind us how serious is this August 2nd deadline that they're all talking about.

NAYLOR: Well, the White House says it's very serious, that come August 2nd, that the U.S. won't have the ability to borrow any more money and won't be able to meet all of its obligations and it's going to have to choose between paying off its debts or it's going to have to choose between issuing Social Security and veterans' benefits and all of the things that the government does.

We don't actually know because we've never been through something like this before.

KELLY: Alright. Thanks so much, Brian.

NAYLOR: Thanks, Mary Louise.

KELLY: That's NPR's Brian Naylor talking about the negotiations still very much underway to try to find a debt deal. And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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