(Michael Reynolds / European…)
The White House signaled Wednesday that President Obama could accept a short-term deal to raise the debt ceiling, but only if it appeared lawmakers were close to an agreement on a significant deficit reduction plan.
The hope of such a "grand bargain" was revived Tuesday by the so-called Gang of Six senators, who outlined a deal that would achieve nearly $4 trillion in deficit reduction in the next decade through spending cuts, entitlement reform and an overhaul of the tax code.
But Congress must act to raise the debt ceiling by Aug. 2, and the plan discussed in the Senate Tuesday was just a framework, not specific legislation that could take weeks to move through Congress.
Obama has repeatedly called for a debt limit increase that would carry the government through to 2013, arguing that the political environment for another increase would only grow more challenging with both the White House and Congress at stake in 2012.
Press secretary Jay Carney said at his daily briefing Wednesday that the president still believes that. But, "if both sides agree to something significant, we will support the measures needed to finalize the details of that."
"We need to be sure that that fail-safe option is there, even as we pursue aggressively the possibility of doing something bigger," Carney told reporters.
A plan based on a legislative maneuver devised by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may be that fail-safe option, or perhaps it would be a simple extension for a matter of weeks or months that would allow time for the Gang of Six plan to move through. It is unclear, though, which if any plan could pass both the Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-led House.
Obama reached out Tuesday night to House Speaker John Boehner, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and McConnell. Both parties' leadership will be coming to the White House Wednesday for separate meetings.