WASHINGTON — With the clock ticking ever louder, Obama administration officials and congressional Republicans clashed anew Sunday over extending the nation's debt limit, with the White House threatening a veto if the government's borrowing authority is not extended through the next elections.
Even so, with an eye toward nervous financial markets, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the two sides seem to be making progress in their long-running debt battle and predicted they will avert a historic federal default.
"It's unthinkable that this country will not meet its obligations on time. It's just unthinkable. We never do that. It's not going to happen," Geithner said.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, flatly rejected President Barack Obama's insistence on a package that would extend the government's authority to borrow money beyond the November 2012 presidential and congressional elections. Democratic congressional leaders have also said the extension must last through next year.
"I know the president's worried about the next elections," Boehner said. "But my God, shouldn't we be worried about the country?"
The remarks came as congressional leaders and aides were beginning another day of meetings at the Capitol as they and the White House strain to craft a deal to avert a debt ceiling crisis by Aug. 2 — a week from Tuesday. That is the day the government runs out of cash to pay its bills — which administration officials and others say could cause catastrophic damage on not just the government's credit rating but the entire economy.
Congressional and Obama administration officials are hoping to announce a framework for an agreement by 4 p.m. EDT Sunday, and House Republicans planned a members-only conference call for shortly after that. That is before the Asian financial markets open, and lawmakers want to avoid producing bad news that could push those markets down and worry American investors as well.
After a long day of meetings Saturday, lawmakers were looking at a plan that would boost the debt limit immediately by roughly $1 trillion — about enough to last through this year — while locking in slightly more spending cuts. Another package combining trillions more in savings and another extension of the debt limit would be considered later.
"There is going to be a two-stage process," Boehner said. "It's not physically possible to do all of this in one step."
Boehner said he hoped to announce a plan on Sunday, but added that the details were still being worked out. He said he could not predict whether it would be supported by congressional Democrats.
Administration officials said a short-term extension of borrowing authority would be harmful.
Asked if Obama would veto a plan that did not extend the government's borrowing authority into 2013, White House chief of staff William Daley said, "Yes. The president believes that we must get this uncertainty in order, to help the American economy and help the American people."
Geithner also said the administration opposes that proposal.
"We can't adopt an approach that leaves the threat of default hanging over the country for another six months," he said on ABC's "This Week." ''That would be deeply irresponsible to do, and we do not think that's an acceptable burden to put on the American economy."
On CNN's "State of the Union," Geithner used a different timeframe, saying it was crucial to "remove this threat of default from the country through the next 18 months."
"You want to take this out of politics, you don't want politics messing around with America's credit," he said.
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