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In emerging Senate plan, Obama sees new hope for major debt deal

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Washington Bureau

The prospects for a significant debt-ceiling compromise were revived Tuesday, as President Obama signaled possible support for a plan being offered by the so-called Gang of Six senators that includes both steep spending cuts and an overhaul of the tax code.

Making a surprise appearance in the White House press briefing room, Obama said the package crafted by the bipartisan group is “broadly consistent with the approach I’ve urged,” and called it a “very significant step” in the months-long negotiations over raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

As the House began debating the GOP’s “cut, cap and balance” plan, Obama also told reporters that time is running out to reach a deal and avert what would be a catastrophic default.

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“We don’t have any more time to engage in any more symbolic gestures,” the president said. “We don’t have any more time to posture.”

An executive summary of the Gang of Six plan outlines an immediate $500 billion in spending cuts, with a total of $3.7 trillion in deficit reduction in the next decade.

The proposal is based on recommendations from the bipartisan deficit commission that Obama commissioned last year, which he had initially been cool to.

It includes entitlement reforms -- a major concern of Democrats -- and “fundamental” tax reform, something that Republicans have been wary of throughout the debt negotiations.

What was significant was the support it received, conceptually, from so many Republicans in the Senate -- including Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the third-ranking GOP member of the chamber.

“We now have a bipartisan group of senators who agree with that balanced approach and we’ve got the American people who agree with that balanced approach,” Obama said. “My hope ... is that [congressional leaders] tomorrow are prepared to start talking turkey and actually getting down to the hard business of crafting a plan that can move this forward in time for the August 2nd deadline,”

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Obama cautioned that he had not yet seen full details of the Gang of Six plan, and Press Secretary Jay Carney later said the White House would study the proposal to ensure it was consistent with the president’s principles.

The president said that following the House vote on its debt-ceiling plan, he would call House Speaker John Boehner to arrange for a new round of talks at the White House this week.

“There’s going to have to be a broader agreement on the part of all the leadership that we’re going to get this done in a serious way, and we’ve got a tight deadline to do it,” Obama said.

Meanwhile, a new poll indicates that Americans increasingly recognize the urgency of raising the debt ceiling. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey found that 55% of respondents said they believe that not raising the ceiling would be problematic, while just 18% say it would not be a real and serious problem.

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