Speaker Boehner calls Treasury's debt-ceiling deadline 'artificial'

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday dismissed Aug. 2 as an artificial deadline to raise the federal debt ceiling above $14.3 trillion, while another GOP leader said it would probably be extended in order to reach a deal.

The GOP maneuver, playing it cool as the deadline hurtles closer, appears to mirror that of President Obama and the White House, which has taken pains to seem unhurried despite its warnings of imminent calamity. 

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“Dealing with this deficit problem is far more important than meeting some artificial date created by the Treasury secretary,” Boehner said in an interview taped Tuesday for Sean Hannity’s program on Fox News.

Separately, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said he understood that the deadline would be moved back, to later in August. “I have simply heard that they may be announcing that they can expand this to a later time in August. As I said, that wouldn’t be surprising to me,” Kyl said.

Time is running out to reach a deal to raise the debt ceiling by Aug. 2, which is when, according to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the U.S. will no longer be able to pay its bills.

Both Republicans and Democrats as well as Obama could be blamed if they trigger an economic downturn by failing to take action that former Congresses handled almost routinely.

Yet both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday were playing it cool, as if each believed it was the other side that had everything to lose in the negotiation.

The GOP assertions of an artificial deadline followed comments from the White House that showed little urgency.

Obama will meet with Senate Democratic leaders on Wednesday in the White House, but his press secretary emphasized that the meeting had been scheduled before debt talks led by Vice President Biden stalled last week over GOP demands that increased taxes be left out of a deal.

Press secretary Jay Carney told reporters flying with Obama on Air Force One to Iowa that he did not have “a structure to provide to you” on how the talks would proceed and that he did not want to “predict a schedule” for talks.

He also said no details on the talks would be forthcoming from the White House.

“We will continue to have conversation and meetings without much elaborations about the details of what’s being discussed there, simply because we believe that enhances the prospects of reaching an agreement,” Carney said.

Boehner last week told reporters he expected he’d be hearing from the White House after his deputy, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), abandoned the debt talks led by Biden.

Nearly a week later, it appears that Boehner is still waiting; he does not have any meetings with the administration on the debt ceiling scheduled this week. A GOP leadership aide said Boehner has had no conversations with the administration this week on the topic.

Carney said Obama has no meetings scheduled with Republicans.

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Treasury has warned of an economic catastrophe if lawmakers do not raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by Aug. 2. Officials say the value of the U.S. dollar could plummet, damaging the economy and making it tougher for businesses to borrow. Bond markets could sour, interest rates could rise and the stock market could plunge. 

A Treasury spokeswoman on Tuesday said U.S. revenues would determine the deadline, and that it was unlikely to move much.

“We will provide an update on the debt-ceiling outlook at the beginning of July, as we have done at the beginning of each month this year, but it is unlikely that the date will move by more than a day or two — if at all,” said Treasury spokeswoman Colleen Murray. 

Kyl said it could take weeks to put any deficit deal into legislation and that the GOP will not allow a White House deal to be “parachuted” into the Capitol and rammed through in three days.

The Bipartisan Policy Center estimated Tuesday that the real deadline could be extended as far as Aug. 9. It also predicted that a failure to raise the ceiling meant Treasury would have to cut 44 percent of federal spending to prevent a default. 

Obama will meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.); Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.); Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee; and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the conference secretary, at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Biden will also attend the meeting. 

The two sides are battling over what to include in what is expected to be an at least $2.5 trillion deficit-reduction package. The GOP is focused on spending cuts, while the White House wants to include some tax measures. 

Carney said the White House was continuing to consult with congressional leaders and moving toward “what we believe will be a significant deficit-reduction deal.”

He also took issue with suggestions the Biden talks had collapsed, saying that those discussions made progress and that it “was always the case that all the issues would not be resolved in those negotiations.”

-- First published at 4:17 p.m. and updated at 8:08 p.m.