WASHINGTON – President Obama on Tuesday urged lawmakers to pick a "clear direction" within the next couple days on how to raise the debt ceiling and cut deficits, praising a bipartisan group of senators for putting a renewed budget plan on the table while criticizing House Republicans for pushing a separate proposal he said will not pass.
"We don't have any more time to engage in symbolic gestures. We don't have any more time to posture," Obama said.
According to the White House, Obama plans to once again summon congressional leaders for a meeting on the way forward. Speaking to reporters briefly Tuesday afternoon, the president warned that lawmakers are now "in the eleventh hour" and need to start "talking turkey" about crafting actual legislation that has a chance at passing.
He seemed to urge lawmakers to use the so-called "Gang of Six" plan as a new starting point for a "broader agreement," claiming it overlapped with his general goals for a deficit-reduction deal.
That plan seeks to extract nearly $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. A group of 50 senators gathered Tuesday for more than an hour to hear from the reunited so-called "Gang of Six" -- a group of three Republicans and three Democrats which led discussions before breaking apart in the spring.
Their deficit-reduction plan has already won the support of the Senate's No. 3 Republican, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, and cautious optimism from one of the Obama administration's toughest critics, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
But as those senators look for a middle ground to break the impasse that has stalled a hike in the nation's debt ceiling, Democratic leaders on Tuesday accused Republicans of wasting valuable time with a vote on a GOP-backed deficit-reduction plan that has little chance of becoming law.
The plan, nicknamed "cut, cap and balance," would permit a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts, a cap on future spending and a vote by Congress in favor of a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
Though it is expected to pass in the House, where Republicans have a strong majority, Democrats have vowed to defeat it in the Senate and Obama has pledged to veto it should it somehow reach his desk.
"Clearly, we are running out of time. We are playing 'let's pretend' on the House floor," House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Tuesday.
He and other Democrats excoriated Republicans for pushing the proposal, as Washington creeps toward what the Obama administration claims is an Aug. 2 deadline to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling or face the possibility of default.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid called the balanced-budget proposal "the stupidest constitutional amendment I've ever seen."
Republicans fiercely defend the cut, cap and balance proposal, noting that they've done more than Obama in putting a plan on the table.
"The president continues to say that he wants to do big things. We do as well. We put forward our big plan and vision in our budget," House Republican Leader Eric Cantor said. "But we implore the president -- let's do big things, let's go ahead and get our fiscal house in order. But let's do so without imposing higher taxes on the small business people that we need so desperately to start hiring again."