Responsibility for debt talks shifts to Congress and away from Obama

This weekend's turn of events have shifted the responsibility of raising the debt ceiling and reducing the deficit to Congress -- and away from President Obama.

Obama and congressional leaders from both parties met at the White House on Saturday morning, and the two branches of government agreed to go their separate ways.

The president blasted lawmakers for playing "reckless political games" and told them to go back to work.

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In a statement from White House press secretary Jay Carney, the administration said Congress "should be responsible and do its job, avoiding default and cutting the deficit."

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reasserted his intention to do just that, issuing a statement that didn't even mention the president or the administration.

"[O]ver this weekend Congress will forge a responsible path forward," the Speaker said. "House and Senate leaders will be working to find a bipartisan solution to significantly reduce Washington spending and preserve the full faith and credit of the United States."

And, to emphasize responsibility now lies with Congress, Boehner and congressional leaders held their own meeting at the Capitol Saturday evening.

Pelosi and Reid left the meeting with Boehner and McConnell after less than an hour, retreating to Pelosi's office across statuary hall in the Capitol. The two Democratic leaders refused to answer repeated questions from reporters. McConnell returned to the Senate side of the Capitol minutes later.

On Friday evening the Speaker announced that he was ending on-again-off-again talks with the White House with only days remaining before the Aug. 2 deadline when the U.S. will exceed its borrowing authority.


On Saturday, he told his GOP rank-and-file that congressional leaders are working round the clock on a deal set for release before the Asian markets open on Sunday at 4 p.m., a source who was on a Republican conference call told The Hill.

Boehner gave few details as to the yet-to-be-seen proposal, according to an official who participated in the call held after the tense meeting at the White House.

"He didn't mention any details; he said the big deal is the Asian markets tomorrow and therefore, we've got to get something out there," the source said, with a cynical attitude as to the urgency of the Asian markets.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Boehner met in the Cabinet Room with the president and vice president for a brief 50 minutes Saturday morning.

"The President wanted to know that there was a plan for preventing national default," McConnell said in a statement released after the meeting. "The bipartisan leadership in Congress is committed to working on new legislation that will prevent default while substantially reducing Washington spending."

The Speaker told his colleagues that any deal will be a product of congressional leadership - not a compromise struck with the White House, the Republican source said, noting that "strategically not working with the president, but with the Senate could be better for him."

Boehner was backed up by Democratic leaders Reid and Pelosi, when he said to Obama, "Mr. President, I need to deal with the House and the Senate because we [the White House and Congress] aren't getting anywhere," the source said.

The White House didn't fight to be a remain a part of the debate of spending cuts, and entitlement and tax reform but Carney said in the statement: "Congress should refrain from playing reckless political games with our economy."

Saturday's moves are a reversal from earlier this week when it appeared that a Senate plan could give the responsibility for raising the nation's debt limit almost entirely to the president.

But Reid postponed plans for the upper chamber to begin proceedings on a contingency plan he had negotiated with McConnell, who floated the original idea.

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The White House did issue the legislators one demand: Obama again dug in on refusing to sign a short-term deal.

"The president restated his opposition to a short-term extension of the debt ceiling, explaining that a short-term extension could cause our country’s credit rating to be downgraded, causing harm to our economy and causing every American to pay higher credit cards rates and more for home and car loans," Carney said.

On the timeframe for a deal, the Democratic leaders back the president.

"I want to reaffirm my statement from last night. I will not support any short-term agreement, and neither will President Obama nor Leader Pelosi," Reid said in a statement. "We seek an extension of the debt ceiling through at least the end of 2012. We will not send a message of uncertainty to the world."

This story was originally posted at 12:45 p.m. and has been updated.