By Russell Berman - 04/13/11 05:00 PM EDT
Congressional Republicans sought to begin bipartisan talks on tackling the federal debt on their own terms Wednesday, ruling out tax increases ahead of a major speech by President Obama.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said they told Obama at a White House meeting that they would not accept a tax hike as part of a deal to lift the debt ceiling.
Obama is expected to repeat his longstanding demand that George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans be allowed to expire as part of a broader plan to reduce the deficit and debt.
Boehner said congressional leaders “had a very frank and serious discussion” with Obama, who provided them a “general outline” of what he plans to tell the nation Wednesday afternoon.
The most pressing concern for policymakers is the federal debt ceiling, which the Treasury Department has said Congress must raise between mid-May and July 8 to avoid a first-ever default by the U.S. government.
McConnell said there is “bipartisan opposition” in the Senate to lifting the debt ceiling without significant spending reforms.
“In my view, the definition of 'significant' is if what we do is viewed as credible by the markets, by the American people and by foreign countries,” McConnell said.
He said there was agreement at the White House between both parties “to put aside the talking points and deal with what’s doable as we approach this debt-ceiling vote.”
Congressional leaders are looking at the end of June as a timeframe for acting on the debt limit, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the second-ranking Senate Republican, told The Hill after the meeting. He added that Obama did not push leaders to commit to a specific deadline,
“My own personal view is we need to act before the end of June or at least by the beginning of July,” Kyl said. “It’s not a very specific thing. They have some leeway, but not enough that we want to try to take it right to the edge.”
“The president didn’t push for any particular timeframe,” Kyl added. “I think all of us are in general agreement about the timeframe within which we need to act.”
Kyl confirmed there would be negotiations between congressional leaders and the administration, but said the details have not been set.
“Exactly how that is set up has yet to be determined. But yes, we will be talking,” he said.
The House is scheduled to break for a two-week recess on June 24.
As for the deep divide over taxes, Kyl said Obama’s views were “firmly held.”
“The president knows what he believes, and he knows what we believe,” Kyl said. “I’m sure the president would not want me to characterize any of his views as intractable, but I can say they’re firmly held.”
Obama is expected to call for Vice President Joe Biden to lead bipartisan congressional negotiations on a deal for the debt-ceiling vote.
Asked if the president said he would accept debt-ceiling legislation that was paired with other items, Boehner replied: “Yes.”