Susan Walsh, Associated Press
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., right, accompanied by House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 12, 2011, as the budget talks continued.

WASHINGTON — The top Republican in the Senate is proposing to give President Barack Obama sweeping new power to, in effect, unilaterally increase the nation's debt limit to avoid a first-ever default on U.S. obligations.

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Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell proposes to allow the president to request up to $2.4 trillion in new borrowing authority. That increase in the so-called debt limit would automatically take effect unless both the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic Senate enact legislation specifically disapproving it.

The new mechanism would take the place of the current White House debt negotiations among congressional leaders and Obama. Those talks over spending cuts and tax increases have grown increasingly acrimonious.