Progress On Debt Talks Saturday Unclear
GUY RAZ, host: From NPR News, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.
Thousands of Norwegians are in mourning today, one day after the worst mass killing in that country's modern history. We'll have much more from Oslo in a few moments.
But first, to news here in Washington, where top congressional leaders and President Obama met again to discuss new ways to end the deadlock over how to raise the debt ceiling. The White House says that limit must be raised by August 2nd to prevent a U.S. government default.
Economists are warning that if it happens, Americans will see an instant spike in interest rates on everything from mortgages to credit cards, and it could send the dollar plummeting.
On Thursday, the president and Republican House Speaker John Boehner were apparently close to a deal that would have slashed federal spending and closed certain tax loopholes. But that deal broke apart. Last night, a frustrated President Obama lashed out at congressional Republicans.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
President BARACK OBAMA: We have run out of time, and they are going to have to explain to me how it is that we are going to avoid default.
RAZ: NPR's White House correspondent Ari Shapiro is at the White House now with more on this story. Ari, what do we know about today's meetings?
ARI SHAPIRO: Well, they showed up at 11 o'clock. They met for about an hour. They left and nobody spoke publicly. You can read the tea leaves as to whether that's a good or a bad sign. But everybody put out written statements afterwards that frankly didn't advance the narrative all that much.
The White House says the president reiterated his opposition to a short-term debt ceiling increase. You remember last night, we heard the president say that as hard as this has been, it'll be even harder six months closer to an election.
There was also a bit of a scolding tone in the White House's statement. Quoting here, it said, "Congress should refrain from playing reckless political games with our economy. Instead, it should be responsible and do its job avoiding default and cutting the deficit." Everyone reiterated how important it is not to let the U.S. default, but they gave no indication that we're any closer to a solution.
RAZ: Now the Treasury Department says August 2nd is the date that the U.S. can no longer pay all of its bills. But how much time is really left for Congress to do something?
SHAPIRO: Well, as I see it, we've got two deadlines. I mean, first, there's the August 2nd deadline you mentioned. Congress has to pass a bill before then, which takes days, not hours, and nobody's been able to say exactly how many days that will be. But then there's a much, much closer deadline, which is when the stock markets open again, the Asian markets open at 4 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday.
When President Obama and Speaker Boehner had those dueling news conferences on Friday night, I think it's no coincidence that they did it after the markets had closed around the world. The question is, can the leaders come up with any kind of reassurance so that when the markets open tomorrow night, they don't immediately plummet on fears that the U.S. is going to be unable to pay its bills in just over a week.
RAZ: Now if the so-called grand bargain is dead, what kind of solutions are out there now?
SHAPIRO: Well, there's this one option on the table that Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate minority, leader initially floated, and Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader from Nevada, a Democrat, had signed on to. This would effectively delegate the authority to the president to raise the debt ceiling. The Congress would express its opposition; the president would do it anyway.
Yesterday at the presidential press conference, Mr. Obama said, I'm willing to do that. It's not his preferred option. But you know what, it's not even clear that that can pass the House. The question is, as President Obama put it, what can Republicans agree to? Republicans said, we agree to this cut, cap and balance bill, which Democrats find unpalatable. So, what can everyone agree to immediately, the American people want to know, because as the president put it, as we just heard, we have run out of time.
RAZ: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro at the White House. Ari, thanks.
SHAPIRO: You're welcome.
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