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White House debt ceiling talks take place with public in a sour mood

As President Obama and congressional leaders meet Saturday at the White House, polls show the public sharply divided on the debt problem’s urgency, down on both parties, and favoring more compromise.

By Dave CookStaff writer / July 23, 2011

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) leaves after his news conference about the debt limit on Capitol Hill in Washington on Friday.

Yuri Gripas/Reuters

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Washington

As President Obama and congressional leaders meet Saturday at the White House, trying to restart collapsed negotiations to avoid a government default, polls show the public sharply divided on the debt problem’s urgency, in a sour mood, and favoring more compromise between the parties.

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Negotiations between House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama collapsed Friday afternoon. They had been working to hammer out a deal to reduce the nation’s debt and to increase the US debt ceiling to avert an August 2 default when the country is slated to run out of cash.

New polling data highlights the political challenges for both sides in the negotiations who were quick to blame each other for the breakdown in talks. Obama said Speaker Boehner had walked away from a deal that would have averted default and cut spending by $2.6 trillion. “Can they say yes to anything?” the president asked angrily at a hastily called Friday afternoon press conference.

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Boehner charged “The White House moved the goalposts,” by seeking $400 billion more in revenue as part of the deal.

While both the President and Speaker Boehner say it is critical to raise the debt limit to avoid a default, the public feels less urgency.

That affects the climate for reaching a politically painful deal. A Pew Research Center poll released last week found that 40 percent of the public felt it was “essential” to raise the debt limit by August 2 to avoid a crisis. But an almost equal number – 39 percent – felt the country could go past that date without major economic problems.

There is a clear partisan split in the way the debt problem is viewed, complicating efforts at arriving at a deal. Pew reported that by a 53 to 30 percent margin, Republicans said it will not be a major problem if the debt ceiling is not raised by August 2. Democrats by a 56 to 28 percent margin felt it would be a problem if the limit is not increased.

Tea party Republicans are by far the most unconcerned about the potential fallout of missing the August 2 deadline, Pew found, with some 65 percent saying that would not be a problem. That number is a key issue for Speaker Boehner who has to convince his 87-member freshman class, many elected with tea party movement support, to accept any agreement he reaches with the White House.

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