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Business Groups Sounding Alarm on Debt Limit

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A couple of traffic lights shine red outside the Capitol Building.(Chet Susslin)

Business groups are sounding the don't mess-around-with-the-debt-limit siren as the White House and lawmakers negotiate over the fiscal cliff. 

The country could hit its borrowing limit as soon as next month and max out on meeting its debt obligations in February unless someone does something. President Obama’s plan to avert the fiscal cliff deal would take authority on the debt limit away from Congress and give it to the executive. But if the White House was expecting Republican leadership to roll over on giving that up, at least not without getting something big in return, it best think again.

Before details of the White House plan leaked to reporters on Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner said, “As I told the president a couple weeks ago, there are a lot of things I’ve wanted in my life, but almost all of them had a price tag attached to them. If we’re going to talk about the debt limit in this, there is going to be some price tag associated with it.”

He also reaffirmed his past position that “any increase in the debt limit has to be accompanied by spending reductions that meet or exceed it.”

Meanwhile, businesses are wary of not raising the debt limit, which brought Washington to a halt last year, but they're avoiding the specifics of how that should play out in any fiscal cliff deal.

Financial Services Forum President and CEO Rob Nichols said that hitting the debt ceiling “would bring upon us significant economic damage" and generally, the country defaulting on its debt should be "taken off the table."

But when it comes to the fiscal cliff debate, "it is going to be up to those who are negotiating to arrive at their terms," Nichols said." I don’t think it’s helpful for business groups to be prescriptive on negotiation rules and what should and shouldn’t be a part of it.”

"The 2011 debt limit negotiations were a defining moment for us,” said Aric Newhouse, senior vice president for policy and government relations at the National Association of Manufacturers. “Manufacturers don't want to see a repeat of a process that could lead to another downgrade.”

The Business Roundtable has advocated for a cliff deal that would address the debt limit. And U.S. Chamber of Commerce government affairs executive vice president Bruce Josten has said it makes sense to address the debt limit while negotiating fiscal cliff spending issues since they’re related.

Even though any deal will ultimately be worked out between President Obama and Boehner, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are sounding off the on the suggestion that Congress should give up its authority to raise the country’s borrowing limit.

Republican Rep. Pat Tiberi, who sits on House Ways and Means, said on Friday that President Obama’s proposal to remove that congressional authority “is not even serious enough to discuss.” Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer backed Obama’s plan, saying on Friday that “We ought to not play this game of debt limit extension. Both parties have been responsible and participated in this game.”

Alex Roarty contributed.

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