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Path to a Debt Deal Becoming Clearer, but Someone’s Got to Give

Douglas Graham/Roll Call
From left: GOP freshman Reps. Rich Nugent, Sean Duffy, Cory Gardner and Tim Griffin announced their support Thursday for Speaker John Boehner’s deficit reduction plan.

Durbin said Thursday that serious negotiations on a deal would not happen until the House voted on the Boehner plan. But House GOP leaders postponed a Thursday evening vote when it became clear that Boehner’s bill didn’t have the support to pass, and it was uncertain when the measure might come back to the floor.

“We’ve got to play the next two cards, then talk,” Durbin said.

Democratic officials said Thursday that Obama has been in contact with Congressional leaders and Members during the debt limit drama. They believed that after the Boehner bill is dispensed with, there would be a greater sense of urgency toward getting a deal. Officials also said they believe Senate Republicans are increasingly open to a compromise and are looking to McConnell to help broker a resolution.

Durbin later said on the Senate floor that Reid’s bill would likely come up for a vote Friday or Saturday.

On Thursday, House Republicans continued to insist that they would not accept anything short of a guarantee that spending cuts will fully offset the debt limit increase. One senior House aide said anything else — including a Boehner-McConnell hybrid — cannot pass.

But Boehner has never completely dismissed the McConnell proposal — noting when it was introduced that it might look better closer to Aug. 2 and that default was not an option.

But to get a plan like that passed by the House, Boehner might have to rely heavily on Democratic votes. Most House Democrats could be expected to vote for a plan that takes default off the table, according to Democratic aides, making it easier for Boehner to find a majority.

McConnell said Thursday that the Boehner bill is the “only” one that can pass and reach the president’s desk, and he urged Democrats to back it.

But he already warned his party of the political consequences of a default when he announced his fallback, warning that defaulting would “destroy” the Republican brand and help re-elect Obama in 2012.

The White House and Democratic officials hope the path to compromise lies in beefing up a joint deficit reduction committee envisioned by the Reid, McConnell and Boehner plans. Officials said they were also looking to enhance the spending targets with triggers that would cause pain for both political parties if Congress failed to enact additional deficit reduction — similar to the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings spending caps from decades ago.

The Democratic officials said the goal would be to provide an incentive for Congress to reach a deal without the threat of default — and provide more assurance that additional cuts will materialize.

Sen. Benjamin Cardin said a trigger that would force Congress to act will play an important role in getting a deal.

“That is what they are arguing about,” the Maryland Democrat said.

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad agreed.

“The key is that you get assurance at the end of the day, if the special committee doesn’t perform, that you get an answer,” the North Dakota Democrat said.

Conrad indicated that a trigger would need to apply to taxes as well as spending cuts, but that issue is one of the reasons Republicans have continued to walk away from talks with Democrats and the White House.

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