Obama Presses Both Chambers For Debt Compromise

For lawmakers in Washington, D.C., it's another working weekend as they try to come to a deal to raise the debt ceiling and prevent a government default next week. NPR's Scott Horsley brings us up to date on negotiations.

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SCOTT SIMON, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. It's another working weekend for lawmakers in Washington, D.C., as they try to come to a deal on raising the debt ceiling and preventing a government default in the coming week. Last night, the House of Representatives finally passed its version, which the U.S. Senate rejected almost instantaneously. With time running out, the president is pressing lawmakers in both chambers to compromise. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us. Scott, thanks for being with us.

SCOTT HORSLEY: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: It's just about three days from the point where the U.S. Treasury warned it won't have enough cash to keep paying all of the government bills. Any sign that there's a deal at hand?

HORSLEY: Well, there's not much sign yet, Scott, but maybe this will be a weekend of political deal-making. As you say, that Boehner bill that passed the House last night was immediately shot down in the Senate. Today, we could see a symbolic vote in the House disapproving a Democratic Senate plan. Ultimately, the key to solving this mess and raising the debt ceiling is going to have to be a bill that can pass both the House and the Senate. That means it's going to have to have some support from Republicans and Democrats and it's going to have to be something that President Obama can sign.

SIMON: And for much of this week, President Obama almost pointedly seemed like a spectator at the drama.

HORSLEY: The drama or the melodrama or what the White House has cast as a sideshow. You know, all this week has been about waiting for the House to pass a Republican bill that everyone knew was going to die in the Senate, and that's taken a lot longer than expected. While this was going on, Mr. Obama tried to sort of align himself with the American people, who are generally disgusted with the whole process. On Monday, he went on national television and urged to write and call their members of Congress. He repeated that message yesterday.

President BARACK OBAMA: To all the American people, keep it up. If you want to see a bipartisan compromise, a bill that can pass both houses of Congress and that I can sign, let your members of Congress know. Make a phone call, send an email, tweet. Keep the pressure on Washington and we can get past this.

SIMON: At the same time, it doesn't seem to be a lot of compromise or bipartisanship in the air. I mean, the Boehner bill, for example, was almost a strict partisan vote, wasn't it?

HORSLEY: Not a single Democratic vote. In fact, what we've seen this week has been moving away from the center. What happened was that the Republican House speaker was facing a revolt from the most conservative members of his own party. That's why it took until Friday for him to bring his bill to the floor. And during the week he kept rewriting it, not to attract Democrats but to win those last few Republican votes he needed. And every rewrite moved the bill further to the right - there were more spending cuts, less money for Pell grants. And then the real poison pill for Democrats: a requirement that any additional increase in the debt ceiling by preceded by a passage of a balanced budget amendment. So, while the final bill will have to be a compromise, all the movement this week has been in the opposite direction, and that illustrates how polarized this Congress is.

SIMON: And maybe we should remind people, passing a constitutional amendment, that's a process that can take 10 years, right?

HORSLEY: Well, I think it would require only passage in the House and Senate but even that's a...

SIMON: Two-thirds, right?

HORSLEY: Exactly. A very high bar.

SIMON: All of this seems to be coming at a very bad time for the U.S. economy.

HORSLEY: Yeah. The stock market had its worst week in a year. And yesterday, we got word from the Commerce Department that the economy grew even more slowly than we expected in the first half of the year. The president has warned the last thing the country needs right now is to lose its AAA bond rating because of these bush league political games.

OBAMA: The power to solve this is in our hands. And on a day when we've been reminded how fragile the economy already is, this is one burden we can lift ourselves.

HORSLEY: But here's the thing, Scott, one of the reasons the economy has slowed down has been a drop in government spending. And the policymakers' response to that is to contemplate additional cuts in government spending. It's hard to really see the economic rationale for that. It's almost as if they're saying the beating will continue until morale improves.

SIMON: Thanks very much. NPR's Scott Horsley.

HORSLEY: My pleasure.

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