WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama pressured Republican lawmakers on Saturday to agree to raise the U.S. debt ceiling for longer than they would prefer, as their fiscal impasse dragged into the weekend with five days left to find a deal.
The budget battle between Obama and Republicans who control the House of Representatives has idled hundreds of thousands of government workers hit by a 12-day government shutdown and put the United States at risk of a historic debt default, possibly by next Thursday, unless the borrowing limit is raised.
With the potential of an economic calamity looming, Obama and his Republican opponents are trying to agree on how long to extend the debt ceiling, with Republicans wanting to limit the extension to six weeks to try force more concessions out of the president.
Obama made clear in his weekly address Saturday that he wants a longer debt ceiling extension to get the U.S. economy through the holiday shopping season without a convulsive shock. Republicans want a commitment to broader deficit-reduction talks from the White House.
"It wouldn't be wise, as some suggest, to kick the debt ceiling can down the road for a couple of months, and flirt with a first-ever intentional default right in the middle of the holiday shopping season," Obama said.
While Obama's talks with House Republicans on Thursday and Senate Republicans on Friday were seen as a constructive sign of progress, there appears to be still a ways to go and many details to iron out before a deal can be clinched.
North Dakota Republican Senator John Hoeven said there are enough ideas being discussed to get to an agreement, but the key now is finding the right combination of them that can pass both the House and Democratic-controlled Senate.
"I do think it's going to take a few days here to get that right combination, but I'm hopeful we'll get a deal," Hoeven told Reuters.
He said Republicans are willing to lift the debt ceiling and end the shutdown but want to make sure that government spending is cut - something they have been trying to negotiate with the White House for months without success.
"I want to see the government get opened and I want to see a debt-ceiling solution. But we've got to use this time as well to find some savings and reforms, and we are talking about what savings and reforms we can get people to agree to," he said.
Republicans have been knocked on their heels by polls showing Americans largely blame them for triggering the crisis, a political dynamic that has strengthened Obama's hand. The president has been unyielding in his insistence that he will not negotiate over the debt ceiling.
Obama told Americans that his Republican opponents are manufacturing a crisis that has the potential for damaging the U.S. credit rating and causing global markets to go haywire.
"Our government is closed for the first time in 17 years. A political party is risking default for the first time since the 1700s. This is not normal. That's why we have to put a stop to it," he said.
House Republicans will meet at the Capitol on Saturday morning to discuss their options after sending the White House a proposal that included the short-term increase in the debt limit that would clear the way for re-opening the government.
The House Republican proposal called for cuts in entitlement programs like the Medicare health plan for seniors to replace two years of the automatic spending cuts known as "sequestration" agreed to last year by Congress, senior congressional aides said.
California Republican Representative Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in the Republican weekly address that his party is standing on some important principles.
"It's about stemming the tide of debt and deficits that threatens to wash out an entire generation's opportunities," he said.