President Obama said Friday that he's hopeful of breaking a "logjam" and finding a way to raise the federal debt ceiling, even as House Republicans prepare a vote next week on a deficit-cutting plan that's sure to win votes from most Republicans - and to go nowhere in the Democratic-dominated Senate.
Both parties seemed to have an eye on the 2012 elections Friday as they staked out public positions likely to play well with their target audiences even if their gamesmanship doesn't resolve the debt and deficit quagmire that menaces the nation's economy.
At the same time, White House officials and congressional Republicans continued to talk privately about finding a fix.
Warning that "we are obviously running out of time," Obama said at his second news conference in five days that he's open to brokering a compromise with Republicans and pressed congressional leaders to come back to him with a deal.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who met Friday with House Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, has warned that the U.S. will go into default on its debts if Congress doesn't raise the debt ceiling, allowing more borrowing, by Aug. 2.
Two debt-rating agencies -- Standard & Poors and Moody's -- have warned that they are close to lowering the U.S. credit rating because of concern that Washington won't raise the debt ceiling, running risk of default. Financial authorities warn that could panic financial markets, causing them to crash and plunging the U.S. economy into deep recession.
Obama, who has sought to trim $4 trillion from the deficit over the next 10 years with a mix of unspecified spending cuts and tax hikes, said he's still pushing for the "big deal" in talks with congressional leaders from both parties and both chambers. But he also acknowledged that if a big deal isn't possible, "then let's still be ambitious, let's still try to at least get a down payment on deficit reduction."
He said the "least attractive option" would be raising the debt ceiling without any cuts in future deficits. A version of that approach is gaining support in the Senate from both parties.
Still, Obama said he's optimistic about progress: "I always have hope," he told reporters. "Don't you remember my campaign?
Republicans insist they will not accept any tax increases. Democrats are wary of cuts in spending on favored programs, especially Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.
With Washington's familiar partisan gridlock as a backdrop, Obama sought in his televised news conference to engage the public and offer himself as the rational middleman - an approach analysts said is aimed at independent voters frustrated with both parties and who likely will decide the 2012 presidential election.
"He's certainly pitching to wherever public opinion is and to where his critical audience is," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, which conducts the McClatchy-Marist Poll. "There's no doubt he's seeking to be the voice of reason, the guy with balance."
Polls show that independent voters are concerned about the country's mounting debt, and unlike Republican lawmakers, aren't opposed to taxing the wealthy or closing corporate tax loopholes to do something about it, Miringoff said.
"The reason we're seeing a lot of President Obama, more than ever before, is he really has public opinion on his side," Miringoff said.
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