MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
It is crunch time for a deal to raise the debt ceiling. Congressional negotiators, led by Vice President Joe Biden, are meeting daily behind closed doors and say they want to reach an agreement by the end of next week. But serious differences remain. Democrats are eager to raise the debt limit as soon as possible. Republicans say they won't go along, unless Democrats support a tough package of spending cuts.
As NPR's David Welna reports, there are far more demands being made right now than concessions.
DAVID WELNA: To hear House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tell it, all is well in the closed-door sessions he's been taking part in to strike a deal for raising the debt ceiling.
Here's Cantor earlier today.
Representative ERIC CANTOR (Republican, Virginia; House Majority Leader): I continue to remain optimistic that we can get some real savings, and as the speaker has laid out, we need trillions of dollars of savings and in spending cuts and to demonstrate to the American people that we're changing the system here.
WELNA: Maryland House Democrat Chris Van Hollen has been negotiating in the same room here at the Capitol as Cantor. During a break in today's session, he insisted any deal aimed at reducing massive deficits has to be about raising tax revenues, as well as cutting spending.
Representative CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (Democrat, Maryland): I mean, you've got all sorts of tax earmarks, tax pork, and that has to be gotten rid of to contribute to the deficit reduction.
WELNA: Such talk of taxes amounts to fighting words for congressional Republicans. Tennessee's Lamar Alexander is the Senate Republicans' chief message man.
Senator LAMAR ALEXANDER (Republican, Tennessee): This discussion that Vice President Biden is leading is not about taxes, it's about spending. And no one in that meeting should get the idea that Senate Republicans are interested in new taxes.
WELNA: Democrats have begun laying down their own markers for a debt ceiling deal. New York's Charles Schumer, who's the Senate Democrats' message man, said today that no deficit can be brought down if high unemployment persists.
Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): We have a message today: put jobs first. Deficit reduction alone is not a cure for what ails our economy. We need to spur job creation as well. The debt ceiling deal needs to deal with both.
WELNA: The competing demands and lines in the sand have some lawmakers worried that the Biden-led talks may not produce a deal in time to raise the debt ceiling. Tennessee Republican Bob Corker today demanded on the Senate floor to know what that group is really up to.
Senator BOB CORKER (Republican, Tennessee): All of us are being patient as they meet in private, sharing no details about what they're doing. But at the end of this week, the end of this work period, Madam President, I think it's time that they come forth to give us the status as to where they are, so that if there's other routes that ought to be taken, people have the ability to do that.
WELNA: Corker is not the only senator running out of patience.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): For goodness sakes, the time is over for talking behind closed doors.
WELNA: That's Dick Durbin, the Senate's number two Democrat. Durbin said today it's time that a separate bipartisan debt reduction group he's been involved in for the past half year show what it's come up with.
Sen. DURBIN: I really appeal to all my colleagues who believe that we should come forward with this Gang of Six - now down to Gang of Five - with our proposal, to let it be known. Come to the floor, talk to their colleagues. Let us break this logjam, which has stopped us from bringing these ideas forward.
WELNA: But Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss, who's in Durbin's Gang of Five, says not so fast.
Senator SAXBY CHAMBLISS (Republican, Georgia): He and I have a disagreement about that. That's been part of the discussion, obviously, in our group. We don't have a deal yet, and until we have a deal, nothing is agreed to.
WELNA: Nothing is agreed to, and the deadline for preventing a possible default on the debt is now six weeks away. If there is to be a deal to raise the debt ceiling, some lawmakers now say it may take direct intervention by President Obama, just as he did earlier this year to avert a government shutdown.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.