WASHINGTON -- The GOP plan to replace Medicare with vouchers will have to wait, party leaders acknowledged Thursday as lawmakers and the White House bowed to political realities in pursuing a deal to allow more government borrowing in exchange for big spending cuts.
Both sides hinted at movement and Vice President Joe Biden reported progress from an initial negotiating session.
Spending cuts and increasing the amount of money the government can keep borrowing to pay its bills are "practically and politically connected," Biden said at the start of budget meetings with lawmakers at Blair House, the guest residence across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.
The House Republican whose committee oversees Medicare said he's open to other approaches besides the voucher plan that recently passed the House after a contentious debate that appears to have hurt the party with older voters. Republicans got an earful from constituents on Medicare during a congressional recess.
Michigan Rep. Dave Camp, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, said he supports the GOP approach, but isn't willing to go to the mat for legislation that has no prospects of becoming law. "I'm not interested in laying down more markers," said Camp. "I'm interested in solutions. ... Let's figure out where there is common ground and let's get there as soon as we can."
Asked about Camp's comments, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said they are "a recognition of the political realities that we face." Nonetheless, Boehner said the GOP Medicare remake remains on the table. "Let me make this clear," Boehner said. "When it comes to increasing the debt limit and the need to have reductions in spending, nothing is off the table except raising taxes."
President Barack Obama and lawmakers of both parties face an Aug. 2 deadline to enact legislation that permits the government to increase its borrowing authority and meet its obligations to lenders. Failure to raise the debt limit beyond the current $14.3 trillion would call into question the creditworthiness of the U.S. government and trigger an economic crisis.
"All of us understand we have got to achieve results," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said. The two sides agreed "to find commonality" and there was "general agreement things have to change," he added.
"You're not going to get to the big nuclear political issues," said a Democratic official in the room. "But there's going to have to be enough give and take on the other pieces that you get enough of a deal to be credible." The Democrat required anonymity to speak more frankly about the negotiations.