Inside the budget battle: little progress as debt ceiling vote looms

Experts say there are two paths to financial ruin for the U.S.: default on its debt, which could happen if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling by Aug. 2, or second, and more fundamentally, failure to address staggering deficits that are slated to overwhelm the economy in coming decades.

Can Washington kick its spending addiction? There are reasons to worry. Everyone seems to have a different plan, and negotiations between party leaders led by Vice President Joe Biden are going slowly enough that Republican House Speaker John Boehner recently pressed President Obama for a sense of urgency.

The pending debt ceiling deadline — Aug. 2, according to the Treasury Department — is a short-term matter. But it’s only one of numerous venues for a political war over the same core issue: where will Congress find trillions of dollars to right America’s fiscal ship? From tax increases, or spending cuts, or both? Top lawmakers like Democratic Sen. Mark Warner and Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions say there’s a “window” of two to three years before the problem gets permanently out of control.

One front in the battle is the “Gang of Six’s” endlessly delayed secret plan. After recently losing conservative icon Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, two of the group’s members went before the cameras Wednesday, boasting of their bipartisanship and giving the distinct appearance they’ll introduce a plan shortly — with or without Coburn.