McConnell: Congress committed to prevent default

By Charles Babington

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, July 23 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Members of the Woo family visiting from California leap for a snapshot outside the White House as President Obama and Congressional leaders meet inside trying to reach a compromise on the debt limit, in Washington, Saturday, July 23, 2011.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama met for less than an hour Saturday with congressional leaders in crisis talks, and a leading Republican said afterward that top lawmakers were "committed to working on new legislation" to cut federal spending and avert an unprecedented U.S. default.

There were no immediate signs of a breakthrough, however. The lawmakers and Obama were unsmiling as the meeting began, and most of them avoided reporters when they left the White House.

"The president wanted to know that there was a plan for preventing national default," Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement issued shortly after the brief meeting.

"The bipartisan leadership in Congress is committed to working on new legislation that will prevent default while substantially reducing Washington spending," McConnell said.

The meeting followed a collapse in negotiations late Friday, when House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio announced he was breaking off talks with the president. A visibly irritated Obama summoned Boehner and three other top congressional leaders from both parties to convene Saturday and try again to find a way to raise the debt limit before an Aug. 2 deadline cuts off the government's borrowing authority.

The president was flanked at the bargaining table by Boehner and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Also at the table were Vice President Joe Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and McConnell, R-Ky.

The president devoted his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday to the impasse and urged Republicans to make a deal.

"We can come together for the good of the country and reach a compromise. We can strengthen our economy and leave for our children a more secure future," the president said. "Or we can issue insults and demands and ultimatums at each another, withdraw to our partisan corners and achieve nothing."

Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas said in his party's weekly address that the Democrats were to blame.

"If we're going to avoid any type of default and downgrade — if we're going to resume job creation in America — the president and his allies need to listen to the people and work with Republicans to cut up the credit cards once and for all," he said.

Boehner and McConnell also criticized Obama and the Democrats before the Saturday meeting began.

"If the White House won't get serious, we will," Boehner's office said. A statement from the office noted that Obama has said he wants an agreement that will take care of the problem through the November 2012 elections.

"It would be terribly unfortunate if the president was willing to veto a debt limit increase simply because its timing would not be ideal for his re-election campaign," according to Boehner's office.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used the troubled talks to raise money with online appeals. An email from the group said that "after hard negotiating for two weeks" Boehner and other top GOP officials "irresponsibly just walked out of the room and quit talks with the White House."

The group said it was "launching a hard-hitting advertising campaign starting this weekend and continuing through August to hold Republicans accountable," but it gave no details.

At a news conference Friday after Boehner said he was withdrawing, Obama told reporters, "We have run out of time and they are going to have to explain to me how it is that we are going to avoid default.

Boehner accepted the invitation for Saturday's meeting even while arguing that Obama bore the blame for the collapse.

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