Where common ground exists in debt-ceiling talks

Getting to 'yes' votes on the debt ceiling is still a political work in progress. But President Obama on Friday cited three areas of agreement, and others point out more common ground.

Richard Drew/AP
President Barack Obama is seen on four television screens in the Credit Suisse booth on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Friday. Obama says there are multiple ways to resolve the debt ceiling mess, but it has to be bipartisan, and it has to happen fast.

In a last-ditch appeal for compromise Friday, President Obama made a point that can easily get lost in the debt-and-deficits shuffle: The two parties agree on some key items that could become the framework of a deal.

Getting to "yes" votes in both the Senate and House is still a political work in progress. Not only are Democrats and Republicans divided on several important issues, but House Republicans have argued among themselves about the legislation. And Mr. Obama has shot down some proposals, saying on Friday, for example, that the bill under consideration in the Republican-controlled House had "no chance of becoming law."

Even so, some policy experts, like the president, argue that a debt-ceiling deal is within reach.

"Keep in mind, this is not a situation where the two parties are miles apart," Obama said. Citing plans that have emerged from Senate leaders Harry Reid (D) of Nevada and Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, he said, "There are multiple ways to resolve this problem."

So how close are the two parties? What is the common ground?

Obama on Friday cited three examples of basic agreement:

• The parties roughly agree on sizable cuts in discretionary spending, as a parallel step to raising the current limit on federal borrowing. Initially the cuts would total about $1.2 trillion over the next decade.

• Plans from both parties would set a process to consider tax and entitlement reforms in coming months. This would reap additional deficit reduction over the next 10 years.

• The president, in a new overture to Republicans, said, "If we need to put in place some kind of enforcement mechanism to hold us all accountable for making these reforms, I’ll support that, too, if it’s done in a smart and balanced way." So far, the House Republican plan includes one enforcement mechanism not in Mr. Reid's Senate plan.

Independent policy analysts cite other elements of common ground that have emerged.

Both the Reid plan and one orchestrated by House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio would put a cap on discretionary spending, which would rise roughly with inflation. Also, both plans envision additional fiscal progress being crafted by a new group of 12 House and Senate lawmakers, six from each party. Proposals emanating from that group would get expedited votes by the full Congress.

Another area of agreement is that neither side is pushing higher tax revenues as part of the current debt deal. Even though many Democrats had been insisting that some new revenue be part of any "balanced" plan for deficit reduction, Republicans said no plan with such provisions would pass the House.

All these areas of existing or potential intersection have emerged during weeks of tense negotiations.

Now is a make-or-break moment when the two sides must either push toward a deal or watch the United States move the brink of possible fiscal chaos. Obama alluded to this in his brief public remarks Friday, saying, "We are now running out of time."

Big challenges remain.

In a bid to find a bill that would win the support of his own party, Speaker Boehner on Friday toughened his measure, linking a second (future) hike in the nation's debt limit to a vote by both the House and Senate to support a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.

While placating conservatives and tea party Republicans in the House, that move further distances Boehner's plan from winning needed Democratic votes in the Senate.

Senate majority leader Reid said Friday that his plan is, in effect, the last one with any chance of passage before the Aug. 2 deadline from the US Treasury.

"Obviously what's being done in the House is not a compromise," Reid said. "The only compromise that there is is mine."

He said his bill reflects input from both parties. "We hold our arms out to ... Republican colleagues" including Mr. McConnell, he said, to strengthen the bill and help it pass. But Reid repeated his longstanding opposition to any deal that would resolve the debt-limit issue for only a couple of months.

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