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Congress turns focus to raising debt limit

WASHINGTON -- The GOP plan to replace Medicare with vouchers will have to wait, party leaders acknowledged yesterday 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 their constituents on Medicare during a recent congressional recess.

Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), 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," Camp said. "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," he 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.

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