An immediate deal to prevent the United States from falling into a devastating default remained out of reach today as political factions - congressional Republicans, Democrats and President Barack Obama - remained unable to overcome differences on spending and taxes.
The Democratic-controlled Senate is all but certain to kill a tea party-backed bill passed in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives earlier this week. The legislation insists on deep government spending cuts and congressional passage of a constitutional balanced budget amendment in return for raising the US debt ceiling by Aug. 2.
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said today that Republicans controlling the lower chamber are willing to compromise on legislation increasing the government's borrowing authority.
"Frankly, I think it would be irresponsible on behalf of the Congress and the president not to be looking at back-up strategies for how to solve this problem," Boehner said. "At the end of the day, we have a responsibility to act."
A Senate plan resurrected by the so-called "Gang of Six," a bipartisan panel of three Republicans and three Democrats, lost much of its luster Thursday after members of Congress from both parties heaped criticism on the measure. Obama had said on Tuesday the deal met the broad outlines of his vision for reducing the debt.
One small opening appeared Wednesday when White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama would agree to a short-term debt ceiling increase - for a matter of days - but only if a plan like the one drawn up by the Senate panel was already agreed to in principle. Obama had previously insisted he would veto any interim measure. He is looking for a comprehensive deal that includes big spending cuts and large increases in tax revenue.
Many Republicans are bound by a pledge to constituents not to increase taxes and to lower them when possible.
An interim deal that could produce a fallback compromise is the work of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. It would give Obama broad new powers to obtain increases in the government's borrowing unless blocked by veto-proof two-thirds margins in both the House and Senate. It calls for modest spending cuts and no new tax revenues.
Many conservative Republicans are in an uproar over the McConnell plan, and more than 70 House members signed a letter circulated by Republican Rep. Jim Jordan promising to oppose the proposal.
Any deal that finally is reached - and there was not assurance one would be - must come together quickly.
Reid said Tuesday that the head of the Congressional Budget Office has told him it could take two weeks to come up with an official cost estimate for even a relatively modest package of spending cuts. That means lawmakers may end up voting on a measure without knowing for sure how much it would save.
Then there are the problems of moving the debt limit increase through the Senate, where the rules allow any single member to force delays.
Parliamentary experts say that if the Senate takes up the debt limit measure on Saturday, it could take more than a week, until Monday, Aug. 1, to pass the measure through that chamber, give the House time to consider it and make changes and then gain Senate approval one more time.
"It's daunting, but it's doable," said Marty Paone, a parliamentary expert with three decades of Senate experience. "If you want to assume the worst, that's how long it will take."
Obama met separately with congressional Democratic and Republican leaders at the White House Wednesday afternoon. None of the participants reported any progress.