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Debt Ceiling Debate Is Revived In Washington


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene.

If you thought the two political parties had moved past their differences over the debt ceiling, think again.

INSKEEP: Let's recall - who could forget - Congress boosted the Treasury's borrowing authority by $2 trillion after a dramatic showdown last summer that also led to the first downgrade ever of the nation's credit rating. But yesterday, the Obama administration said that borrowing authority is set to max out by the end of the year.

GREENE: And that prompted House Speaker John Boehner to insist that any increase in the debt limit will have to be matched by even greater cuts in spending.

Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Sometimes it takes a Washington summit to tease out what's coming down the political pike. That's just what happened yesterday in the big auditorium a few blocks from the White House, where administration officials and lawmakers came together for the third annual Peter G. Peterson Foundation Fiscal Summit.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner arrived with a warning: The United States, he said, will likely hit its debt limit sometime before the end of the year.

SECRETARY TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Only Congress, of course, can act to raise the debt limit and, you know, we hope that they do it this time without the drama and the pain and the damage they caused the country last July.

WELNA: Inflicting such pain and damage, Geithner pointedly noted, would not be responsible. House Speaker John Boehner responded a few hours later.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Yes, allowing America to default on its debt would be irresponsible. But it would be more irresponsible to raise the debt ceiling without taking dramatic steps to reduce spending and reform the budget process.

WELNA: Boehner vowed he'll approach raising the debt ceiling next time the same way he did last year.

BOEHNER: When the time comes, I will again insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase.

WELNA: In the Senate, where the last debt ceiling crisis was finally resolved, Republicans did not exactly rush to embrace Boehner's hard-line stance. But number-two Republican Jon Kyl did give Boehner a limited endorsement.

SENATOR JON KYL: I'd really prefer not to comment on that until I have a chance to visit with him more about it. But it seemed very sensible to me.

WELNA: It did not seem sensible, though, to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

SENATOR HARRY REID: Republicans can grandstand all they want, the fact is any agreement to avoid a fiscal cliff facing us at the end of this year must not gut programs that support the middle class.

WELNA: At the fiscal summit, Congressman Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, took Boehner to task.

REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: It is absolutely reckless to threaten that the United States will not pay its bills. It is reckless to do that. That is not fiscal discipline. That is fiscal irresponsibility. We should be coming together to try and find a way out, not drawing lines in the sand.

WELNA: Asked about Van Hollen's characterization, Boehner did not disagree.

BOEHNER: It is a line in the sand, because Washington has kicked the can down the road, kicked the can down the road, kicked the can down the road, and the American people think we're crazy. They're ready for Washington to take action.

WELNA: But any action on the debt limit likely won't come until after the November election, and possibly not even until early next year.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.
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