White House Shifts Positions in Debt-Limit Debate

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The roller-coaster debate over raising the nation's debt limit has forced the White House to explain away, brush aside or even ignore declarations by President Obama and aides that no longer served much purpose in the unpredictable negotiations.

First, the White House wanted a congressional vote separated from spending cuts. Now the administration likes them linked.

Obama said he would reject any short-term deal to raise the borrowing limit. Now the White House says he could make an exception.

He pledged to meet with congressional leaders every day until a deal was reached. But the daily meetings stopped or at least disappeared from his schedule. He did summon lawmakers to the White House for talks Saturday after the top House Republican walked out Friday night.

The White House shifts have been less a matter of flip-flops and more a case of unforeseen twists forcing the administration to reposition as the Aug. 2 deadline to prevent the U.S. from defaulting on its financial obligations draws closer.

Anticipation of a deal had built all week, then came crashing down Friday evening when House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, abruptly broke off the talks.

The White House's willingness to change course underscores efforts to cast Obama as a reasonable and flexible compromiser in the face of Republican intransigence.

Perhaps the most notable shift has been on whether an increase should be linked to spending cuts.

The president's opening position: a resounding no.

"We do not need to play chicken with our economy by linking the raising of the debt ceiling to anything," White House spokesman Jay Carney said April 11.

But a few days later, Obama told The Associated Press in an interview that raising the debt ceiling wasn't going to happen without some cuts.

Three months later, the White House has bowed to that political reality, acknowledging Republicans would block an increase without the cuts and promoting the benefits of linking the two.

"The dynamic that's created here, for better or for worse -- and we think now for better -- that has linked these two has focused attention and focused people's minds on the need to do something significant around deficit reduction," Carney said Wednesday.

The White House has had to recalibrate its position on whether Obama would back a short-term increase to avoid a default.

At a July 11 news conference, Obama insisted he would not consider that option.

"This is the United States of America, and we don't manage our affairs in three-month increments," he said.

But as the default 2 deadline neared, the White House relaxed its total opposition.

Now aides say Obama would approve an increase for a few days, but only there was agreement on a long-term deal, and more time was needed for the legislative process.

And what of the president's pronouncement this month that he would meet with lawmakers "every single day until we get this thing resolved" didn't have much of a shelf life.

Obama and congressional leaders did meet at the White House for five straight days until all sides recognized that the daily sessions weren't the best approach.

In recent days, Obama has opted to meet with leaders from each party separately, or simply call them on the phone.