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Sen. Thune: Obama 'not very engaged' in debt talks

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Obama has stressed repeatedly that he believes reaching a compromise budget deal is crucial, but Thune contended his actions have not matched his rhetoric.

"You think about it, this president just won a big election, you think he would want to lead," Thune said. "He hasn't put anything forward."

The South Dakota lawmaker said Republicans would have the opportunity to take the upper hand in the negotiations to avoid the fiscal cliff if they do not agree to an extension of the debt ceiling, which would set up another high-stakes budget showdown in early 2013.

"We do have some leverage with the debt ceiling increase, more than we do right now, because right now, he's got the cards," Thune said. "If nothing happens, Congress doesn’t act, taxes go up automatically. The debt ceiling at least requires Congress to take action.”

Thune suggested the White House could be considering unilaterally raising the debt ceiling under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, a move that the administration has denied.

"Now what we’re told is that the president is thinking about what he’d be able to do about raising the debt ceiling without going through Congress,” Thune said, warning that doing so could raise constitutional questions.