NPR logo Debt-Ceiling Talks: Slouching Toward Defaultmageddon

Debt-Ceiling Talks: Slouching Toward Defaultmageddon

President Obama with congressional leaders at the White House, July 14, 2011. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Obama with congressional leaders at the White House, July 14, 2011.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

We're exactly one week away from July 22, the date when President Obama said he wants a debt-ceiling deal in hand so there'll be enough time for legislative language to be drafted and congressional votes taken to raise the limit by the Aug 2 deadline we can call Defaultmageddon.

To anyone who's watched Washington negotiations long enough, this would seem to imply that we're precisely one week away from any deal.

Partisan negotiators tend to wait until the last possible minute before agreeing to a deal as they wait for the other side blink first. In Washington, policymakers are always slouching toward the brink. It's part of the inefficiency of democracy.

Obama isn't even having a meeting of the debt-ceiling negotiators Friday, choosing to have a news conference instead to update the public and try to get his message out so that newsies will have something to chew on the entire weekend.

He sent Republican and Democratic congressional leaders who met with him back to Capitol Hill to meet Friday with their respective members.

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Obama wants the leaders to discern what it will take for those leaders to secure 218 House votes and 60 Senate votes. He's given them 24 hours to 36 hours.

If they can't get there, then he'll hold another White House meeting. Because this is an emergency, Obama said he and his staff are "on call."

Thursday's White House meeting, by the way, sounded like it was a much mellower affair than the meeting one day earlier when Obama and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor engaged in some Washington-style trash talk. Those in the room for the meeting said Cantor said not a word Thursday.

For their part, senators were said to be working on what's come to be known as "Plan B" or the "fallback plan," the equivalent of the fire extinguisher behind protective glass that's only to be broken in case of emergencies.

Under the plan proposed by Senate minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, Congress would give the president the power to raise the debt ceiling but use a roundabout way to do it so Republicans wouldn't have to vote affirmatively to increase the limit.

McConnell and Sen. Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and majority leader, are trying to work out how this approach would work.

Michael Shear, over at the New York Times' The Caucus blog provides a public service by describing the existing proposals aimed at getting a debt-ceiling deal. He counts eight of them.