WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama concluded a round of debt talks on Thursday by sending lawmakers back to Congress to gauge support for a deal, saying a package to cut the deficit by $2 trillion was within reach.
Republicans, who are seeking $2.4 trillion in cuts in return for supporting a rise in the debt ceiling, pressed Obama to reduce spending in a "meaningful way" in the fifth round of White House talks in as many days.
The Treasury has warned that it will run out of money to pay the country's bills after August 2 if the $14.3 trillion borrowing limit is not raised. Failure to seal a deal by then could cause turmoil in global financial markets and plunge the United States into another recession.
Democratic and Republican officials said the tone of Thursday's meeting was cordial and polite and that taxes and healthcare spending were discussed.
"The president told the leaders that they had now walked through all the components of a potential big deal, in detail, and that it was now a good time for the leaders to go back to their caucuses, to consult with each other over the next 24 to 36 hours and figure out what can get done," said a Democratic official.
"He said that if he hasn't heard back from them with a plan of action in that time frame, he may call another meeting for the weekend."
Obama said a roughly $2 trillion deal "would be possible if all sides were willing to give a little," the official said.
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, said the Obama administration had not offered enough to address the debt problem after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said financial markets wanted the ceiling to be raised and a deficit-cutting deal to be agreed.
"The speaker used that warning to reiterate his concern that nothing the administration is offering to this point will resolve our debt problem," a Republican aide said. "He continued to press the White House to get serious about reducing spending in a meaningful way."
China, the United States' biggest foreign creditor with more than $1 trillion in Treasury debt, added to the pressure, urging Washington to adopt responsible policies to protect investor interests.
Markets reacted skittishly as an agreement remained elusive, and divisions within the Republican Party seemed to increase the difficulty of striking a deal.
The two sides are not scheduled to meet on Friday. Obama will hold a press conference at 11:00 a.m. EDT.
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