By Alexander Bolton - 07/17/11 03:47 PM EDT
White House Budget Director Jack Lew insisted Sunday there is still time for President Obama and congressional leaders to reach a major deficit-reduction agreement, though talks are at a standstill.
Lew said the president is ready to strike a sweeping deal to reduce the deficit by as much as $4 trillion over the next decade and is waiting for Republicans to join him.
Lew said the major spending agreements and entitlement reforms of the past have required the cooperation of party leaders, citing past deals between former House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.) and former President Reagan and between former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and former President Clinton.
“The question is, do we have a partner to work with, and I hope the answer to that is 'yes,' ” Lew said. “Leadership requires a partner.”
But House Republican and Senate Democratic leaders said there was no progress to report on Saturday. No meetings among the principle negotiators have been announced for Sunday.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), appearing on “Meet the Press,” said the leadership group, including Obama and the top leaders from both chambers, that met throughout last week had no plans to meet Sunday.
House Republicans have coalesced behind the Cut, Cap and Balance Act that would cut spending by $111 billion in fiscal year 2012 and cap spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product by 2021. It would also require Congress pass a balanced-budget amendment before raising the debt limit by $2.4 trillion.
Senate Republican Steering Committee Chairman Jim DeMint (S.C.) said Republicans are “more than willing to work with the president,” but argued Obama has not put forward a credible plan, and that the only detailed budget plan from Obama failed to win a single vote of support on the Senate floor.
DeMint said credit agencies would give the U.S. a negative rating if Congress raised the debt limit without taking significant steps to balance the budget.
“There’s only one plan in Congress right now to [raise the debt limit] in a way that the credit agencies say won’t turn us toward a negative rating, and that’s the cut, cap and balance plan in the House,” DeMint said.
Durbin, the Senate Democratic whip, said flatly that a balanced-budget amendment would not pass the upper chamber.
“This notion that we somehow have to change the Constitution to do what we were elected to do is just plain wrong,” he said.
Durbin said the president and Senate Democrats are still committed to striking a grand bargain.
“What we need to do is to sit down and work together,” he said. “The president has laid out a big plan. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the Senate Democrats have said we want to work toward a big plan to reduce this deficit by at least $4 trillion over the next 10 years.”