President Obama hailed as "good news" word on Tuesday that the bipartisan Gang of Six senators presented a framework for a deficit reduction plan that includes tax revenues and is "in the same playing field" as what he hopes to accomplish in talks with Congress.
Stepping into the White House briefing room after word emerged that Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., had rejoined the effort with time ticking down to the Aug. 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling, Obama called it "a very significant step."
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"The hope is that everyone seizes this opportunity," Obama said. “I want to congratulate the Gang of Six for coming up with a plan I think is balanced.”
Obama said his team had not yet had time to fully evaluate the plan, which was released just hours before the president spoke. But Obama called it “broadly consistent” with the plan he has been pushing in talks and said he expected “significant overlap” between the two. White House press secretary Jay Carney said he did not believe the president had spoken with any member of the group.
Obama said he had talked with congressional leaders and felt that beginning on Wednesday, lawmakers would be "ready to start talking turkey." Still, lawmakers would have to build support among their parties and craft a plan very quickly to begin moving it through legislatively machinery by Friday, the date by which the White House has said negotiators must agree to a deal to avoid default.
House Speaker John Boehner was less enthusiastic about the Gang of Six plan. In a statement, Boehner's office said that the plan "shares many similarities with the framework the Speaker discussed with the president, but also appears to fall short in some important areas."
In a statement issued on Tuesday evening, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the proposal "does seem to include some constructive ideas to deal with our debt." Cantor said the plan's proposal of a top tax rate of no higher than 29 percent was a good sign. "That said, I am concerned with the Gang of Six’s revenue target. The plan fails to significantly address the largest drivers of America’s debt, and it is unclear how the goals of tax and entitlement reforms would be enforced. I continue to caution that a tax increase is the wrong policy to pursue with so many Americans out of work."
Carney refused to speculate on whether Obama would approve a short-term extension of the debt ceiling if a deal were in the works but not ready to pass in time.
Of a fallback plan being developed by Senate leaders Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to raise the debt limit with a limited package of cuts, Obama said it “continues to be a necessary approach to put forward in the event that we don’t get an agreement. At minimum, we’ve got to raise the debt ceiling.”
But the president indicated his patience is running out and he will not tolerate any more symbolic votes.
“We don’t have any more time to engage in symbolic gestures, we don’t have any more time to posture,” he said. “Its time to get down to the business of solving this problem.”
The president made clear that policymakers are running out of time.
“So far, the markets have shown confidence that leadership here in Washington are not going to send the economy over a cliff,” Obama said. “If we continue to go through a lot of political posturing … markets here, the American people and the international community are going to start reacting adversely.”
“It’s time to get down to the business of solving this problem, and we are now seeing the potential for a bipartisan consensus,” he added.
Rebecca Kaplan contributed. contributed to this article.
This article appears in the July 19, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.