Jul 262011
Authors: McClatchy-Tribune

WASHINGTON — The Republican leader of the House and the Democratic leader of the Senate issued dueling proposals to allow the federal debt ceiling to be raised — both with steep spending cuts, but neither with a clear route to ending the standoff over the government’s ability to pay its bills.

Both plans will face key tests in the next few days, when House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., each plan to bring their proposals to the floors of their respective chambers.

In the House, the issue will be whether conservative Republicans remain united behind Boehner even though his plan received mixed reviews from conservatives, with some influential “tea party”-affiliated lawmakers and groups denouncing it as too weak.

In the Senate, the question will be whether Reid can attract the seven Republicans he needs to cut off a threatened filibuster and claim bipartisan backing.

In advance of the votes, President Barack Obama made a nationally televised speech Monday night, asking the public to contact members of Congress and demand compromise.

Shortly after his speech, the websites of several members of Congress crashed, officials said, in a shutdown that they could not immediately explain. The problems affected dozens of well-known lawmakers from both parties, including Boehner and fellow Republicans Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., as well as top Democrats, including Sens. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Charles E. Schumer of New York.

Despite the increasingly heated rhetoric in Washington, the Boehner and Reid plans have similarities. Both embrace the Republican goal of deep cuts in federal budgets. Neither includes any of the new tax revenue that Obama called for.

But the two also have some key differences. Boehner’s would cut more deeply and probably require significant reductions in Medicare and other federal entitlement programs. Reid’s plan avoids such cuts. Instead, Reid books savings from winding down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Republicans deride that as a gimmick because the wars will end regardless of the budget debate.

Reid’s plan would raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling enough to carry the government through 2012. Boehner’s plan would require a second congressional vote early next year, which Obama in the past has called a deal breaker.

Obama has said he does not want to revisit the debt-ceiling debate in coming months, when political infighting is expected to intensify in the run-up to the 2012 election. Democrats say another debt- ceiling impasse could jeopardize the economy.

In his speech, Obama said Boehner’s bill “doesn’t solve the problem,” but he notably did not repeat his vow to veto any bill that failed to get the Treasury through 2012. Instead, he sharply criticized House Republicans for refusing to compromise and warned that “we can’t allow the American people to become collateral damage to Washington’s political warfare.”

Obama said “neither party is blameless” for increasing the nation’s debt, but he accused House Republicans of playing a “dangerous game” with the nation’s credit in an attempt to force their will on the rest of the government. If Washington lawmakers did not agree to compromise, he said, “we would risk sparking a deep economic crisis — this one caused almost entirely by Washington.”
He repeated his critique that Republicans were demanding “sacrifice” from senior citizens, college students and working families while “nothing is asked of those at the top of the income scales.”

In a televised response, Boehner said the president had created a “crisis atmosphere” and was asking Congress to give him a “blank check.”

“That is just not going to happen,” he said. The real problem, he said, is a government that has become “so big and so expensive it’s sapping the drive of our people.”

Boehner’s plan would work in two stages. The first would cut more than $1 trillion from appropriations over the next decade by capping future spending. In exchange, the plan would approve enough new debt to carry the government into next year.

In the second stage, a special congressional committee would be set up to recommend as much as $1.8 trillion in additional cuts, which probably would include entitlement programs. If those cuts were approved by December, the president could request a second debt increase to cover the nation’s bills through the end of 2012. The plan also calls for a congressional vote this year on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

Under the Boehner plan, lawmakers could approve the spending cuts while also voting to express disapproval of the new debt, a further appeal to the right flank.

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