WASHINGTON — Republican US House Speaker John Boehner poured cold water Friday on talk of an "imminent deal" with the White House to raise the US debt limit, but warned of dire fallout unless one is reached soon.
"The situation that we face is pretty urgent. Matter of fact, I think I would describe it as dire," Boehner, who was due to meet with President Barack Obama and other congressional leaders on Sunday, said at his weekly press conference.
The lawmaker warned against tip-toeing up to an August 2 deadline on the debt, stressing: "I frankly think it puts us in an awful lot of jeopardy and puts our economy in jeopardy, risking even more jobs."
"So I believe it's important that we come to an agreement, but it has to be an agreement that really does fundamentally change our spending and our debt situation," he said.
Boehner played down talk that Republicans, the White House, and its Democratic allies were closing in on a compromise that could slash up to $4.5 trillion over 10 years in savings in return for raising the debt ceiling.
"There is no agreement, in private or in public," he said. "It's not like there's some imminent deal about to happen. There are serious disagreements about how to deal with this very serious problem."
Boehner faces pressure from Republicans close to the archconservative "Tea Party" movement to reject any compromise that raises taxes, something he has already publicly ruled out.
Obama faces pressure from Democrats outraged by talk that he might agree to cuts in the fraying US social safety net, notably to the Medicare health program for the elderly and disabled and to Social Security retirement benefits.
"At the end of the day, we've got to have a bill that we can pass through the House and the Senate. This is a Rubik's Cube that we haven't quite worked out yet," Boehner told reporters.
Amid staff-level discussions ahead of a fresh round of White House talks set for Sunday, Boehner told reporters: "there are a lot of conversations continuing. But in all honesty, I don't think things have narrowed. I don't think this problem has narrowed at all in the last several days."
The talks are part of a final major push to reach a deal to raise the congressionally determined limit on US borrowing, now set at $14.29 trillion, in the face of a budget deficit expected to hit $1.6 trillion this year.
The US hit the ceiling on May 16, but has since used spending and accounting adjustments, as well as higher-than-expected tax receipts, to continue operating without impact on government obligations.
But by August 2, the government will have to begin withholding payments -- to bond holders, civil servants, retirees or government contractors -- and the White House has urged a deal by July 22 to have time to pass it.
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