Boehner's office: Two-step process to raise debt ceiling now 'inevitable'

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is pushing Congress to resort to a two-vote approach to raise the debt-ceiling and prevent a government default.

It is not “physically possible” to get everything done before the Treasury Department’s Aug. 2 deadline for raising the debt ceiling, Boehner said on Fox News Sunday. “There is going to be a two-stage process.”

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“I don't want to get anywhere close to [default],” he said. “This is about what's doable at the eleventh hour.” 

Boehner also criticized President Obama's call for a debt-ceiling deal that would last beyond the next election season.

“The president’s worried about his next election, but my God, shouldn't we be worried about the country?” Boehner said.

In a statement, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said, "The Democrats who run Washington have refused to offer a plan. ... Now, as a result, a two-step process is inevitable." 

House Republican lawmakers are set to participate in a conference call with GOP leaders at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, according to a source notified of the second such meeting in as many days.

The source anticipates Boehner will speak about a deal reached by congressional leaders to raise the debt ceiling before the Aug. 2 deadline. 

Steel's remarks were a response to a biting statement from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) accusing Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) of "intransigence" in their approach to the debt talks.


"Their unwillingness to compromise is pushing us to the brink of a default on the full faith and credit of the United States," Reid said. "We have run out of time for politics. Now is the time for cooperation."

On Saturday, Steel flipped the blame back on Democrats, noting that the Republican-controlled House had passed the GOP's "cut, cap and balance" legislation last week, only to have Senate Democrats kill the bill. The proposal would have hiked the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion only if Congress passed an amendment to the Constitution that would prohibit deficit spending. It also would have capped federal spending at 18 percent of GDP, a rate that's been exceeded every year since 1966.

"For months, we have laid out our principles to pass a bill that fulfills the President's request to increase the debt limit beyond the next election," Steel said. "We have passed a debt limit increase with the reforms the American people demand, the 'Cut, Cap, and Balance' bill."

Steel noted that leaders in both parties agree on at least one thing: "Like the President and the entire bipartisan, bicameral Congressional leadership, we continue to believe that defaulting on the full faith and credit of the United States is not an option,” he said.

The high-stakes budget poker began Friday evening when Boehner abruptly announced that he'd quit talks with the White House over a package to increase the country's $14.3 trillion debt limit and slash deficit spending. Boehner said he simply couldn't accept the level of tax hikes Obama was demanding.

Bipartisan leaders from both chambers – including Boehner, Reid, McConnell and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) – huddled with Obama at the White House Saturday morning, and the four congressional leaders met again separately later in the day.

The brevity of the meetings – combined with the tone of the statements issued afterward – is indication that the sides remain far from agreement on a grand deficit-reduction bargain to accompany the debt ceiling hike. The two-tiered approach Boehner now sees as inevitable would allow Congress to hike the debt ceiling now and return to the debt-reduction components at a later date.

Pelosi Saturday night also hinted that the two-vote approach might be the way to go.

"One option is to do something in two tiers, and I don’t think we can accomplish what we need to do in deficit reduction without revenues," she said as she left the Capitol.

Some lawmakers have suggested Congress could raise the debt ceiling and solidify spending cuts now and take up the tax-reform provisions next year. But Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) suggested Friday, that such a plan wouldn't win the Democratic support needed to pass through the lower chamber.

"That may be something that Speaker Boehner feels that he can get 218 Republican votes on," Larson warned.

Another crucial sticking point remains: How much to extend borrowing limits? Republicans are suggesting a short-term extension, forcing Congress back to the negotiating table early next year. Obama, Reid and Pelosi have all rejected that strategy, pushing instead for a larger increase so the issue won't surface again before the 2012 elections.

"I will not support any agreement that fails to raise the debt ceiling though the end of 2012," Reid said in his statement Saturday.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner however showed little enthusiasm for a two-tiered vote, saying on Sunday it “makes no sense” to leave the threat of a default hovering before the next election.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, he reinforced Obama's position that any proposal from Congress needs to “take default off the table for the next 18 months ... through the election.”


—Molly K. Hooper and Alicia M. Cohn contributed to his story.

This story was originally posted at 8:25 am and has been updated.