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Former President Clinton Retracts Default Comments After White House Intervention

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Former President Bill Clinton speaks at the 2011 Fiscal Summit on Solutions for America's future in Washington May 25.Reuters

Former President Bill Clinton retracted comments that the U.S. government could default on its debt for a few days without "calamitous" consequences, after being urged to do so by top White House officials, people familiar with the events said Thursday. 

After hearing Mr. Clinton's comments on Wednesday, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, spoke with aides to Mr. Clinton and advised that he clarify his thinking, two people said. The former president did so that afternoon. 

The White House officials suggested Mr. Clinton's comments could be used by congressional Republicans, who are resisting the Obama administration's push to raise the government's $14.3 trillion borrowing limit. Some Republicans have been arguing that allowing the deadline to pass wouldn't be as catastrophic as the Obama administration has warned. 

Mr. Daley, who is traveling with President Barack Obama in Europe, heard about Mr. Clinton's remarks and called Doug Band, the former president's top aide. Mr. Daley suggested that Mr. Clinton may have walked into a bigger controversy than he intended, one person said. For months, the White House has been urging Congress to raise the legal borrowing limit so the government has enough money to pay all its bills. 

Mr. Sperling, who was at a conference on fiscal issues where Mr. Clinton spoke, helped draft Mr. Clinton's clarification. Mr. Sperling and Mr. Daley both worked for Mr. Clinton when he was president. 

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