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Obama, GOP craft debt ceiling plan; Agreement 'Will End The Crisis' $2.1 trillion of deficit cuts are in deal to avert default

President Obama and Republican congressional leaders reached agreement late Sunday on a plan to raise the federal debt ceiling and reduce the deficit by at least $2.1 trillion over a decade, a move that could avert a disastrous government default Tuesday.

The deal would extend the debt ceiling into 2013 and "will allow us to avoid default and end the crisis that Washington imposed on the rest of America," Obama said in an evening television appearance from the White House.

Still, the larger issue surrounding the pending deal was the politics of getting it passed by Congress when votes start today.

The outlines of the deal drew harsh criticism from both the left and the right, meaning that its passage would likely depend on a fragile, temporary centrist coalition in both houses of Congress.

The deal was largely the work of Obama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., but congressional leaders of both parties signed onto it.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, outlined the details of the plan in a conference call with Republican members Sunday night.

Boehner told Republican lawmakers that the agreement "isn't the greatest deal in the world, but it shows how much we've changed the terms of the debate in this town."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was more noncommittal, saying in a statement: "I look forward to reviewing the legislation with my caucus to see what level of support we can provide."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., threw his support behind the measure, though.

"In the end, reasonable people were able to agree on this: The United States could not take the chance of defaulting on our debt, risking a United States financial collapse and a worldwide depression," he said on the Senate floor.

According to outlines released by Obama and Boehner, the deal would raise the debt limit and cut spending in two steps:

The first would combine spending cuts of $917 billion with a debt limit increase of $900 billion, including an immediate $400 billion increase and an additional $500 billion that would go forward later this year unless Congress chooses to block it.

That $900 billion would be enough to let the government pay its bills for about six months. Those cuts would be centered on "discretionary" congressional expenditures on programs such as housing and transportation, and would not touch entitlements such as Medicare.

The second debt ceiling increase, of up to $1.5 trillion, would be combined with a second round of spending cuts that would come about in one of two ways.

A special bipartisan committee of lawmakers would be given the responsibility of developing a plan to cut the long-term deficit by at least $1.5 trillion either through spending cuts -- including entitlement reform -- and a rewrite of the tax code to trim deductions and lower overall rates. That plan would be due by November.

If the committee fails to come to an agreement, or if Congress fails to ratify its suggestions by Dec. 23, Congress would have to vote on a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.

And if that fails -- which is likely, because constitutional amendments require two-thirds majorities in Congress to move forward -- an additional $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts would take place, and they would be matched with a similar increase in the debt ceiling.

Those automatic cuts would not affect Medicare or Social Security benefits, but they could reduce payments to doctors and other Medicare providers.

McConnell praised the deal.

"There is now a framework to review that will ensure significant cuts in Washington spending," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "And we can assure the American people tonight that the United States will not for the first time default on its obligations."

Earlier, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said in an appearance on CNN: "Default is far less of a possibility than it was even a day ago."

Those comments came in sharp contrast to those on the extremes of American politics.

On the left, a co-chairman of the House Progressive Caucus, Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., lambasted the agreement.

"This deal trades peoples livelihoods for the votes of a few unappeasable right-wing radicals, and I will not support it," Grijalva said in a statement in which he expressed fears about entitlement reform.

"Progressives have been organizing for months to oppose any scheme that cuts Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, and it now seems clear that even these bedrock pillars of the American success story are on the chopping block."

On the right, the tea party blogosphere was aflame with criticism of the deal. Many complained that the bipartisan committee given responsibility for cutting the deficit could conceivably recommend tax increases as well as budget cuts.

"This whole farce in Washington is a way to get more tax revenue from you," wrote Erick Erickson, an influential blogger on Redstate.com. "And despite public pronouncements from the Republicans that they were holding the line on tax revenue they were either (A) complicit behind the scenes or (B) going to get played."

House Republican sources expressed qualms that the second round of automatic cuts could lead to harsh reductions in defense spending, and that appeared to be one of the key issues in the upcoming congressional debate on the issue -- and one that could even impact some centrist lawmakers.

Marshall Wittman, spokesman for Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., said Lieberman "is very concerned about rumors that the debt agreement will disproportionately cut defense spending."

The Senate, which had been hoping to vote on the deal Sunday, instead is expected to take it up early today.

Strong support in the Senate could pave the way for a House vote later today or early Tuesday, although congressional sources in both parties said they expected the House vote to be close because of defections among the House's most liberal and conservative members.

Obama said he didn't get everything he wanted in the deal. He said he hoped that it would include tax reform and entitlement reform, instead of punting those key issues to a special congressional committee.

Democrats and Republicans alike had to give in for the deal to be struck, Obama added. But in the end, both parties and the entire country are likely to agree with one point he made.

"This process has been messy," the president said. "It's taken far too long."

News wire services contributed to this report.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com

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