WASHINGTON (AP) — Scrambling to head off disaster, House Speaker John Boehner on Sunday readied a plan to prevent the first government default in U.S. history and said Republicans would act alone if Democrats didn't go along. The White House said President Barack Obama would veto a plan that failed to extend the nation's borrowing power into 2013 as time for action drew dangerously close.
On a day of deepening tension, Boehner hoped to outline at least a framework of a deal by 4 p.m. EDT that could get through a divided Congress and avert panic before Asian financial markets opened hours later. The government is on pace to run out of money to pay its bills unless the debt cap is raised by Aug. 2.
Boehner's plan, still under negotiation on Capitol Hill, would likely cut spending by at least $1 trillion and extend the federal borrowing limit by a slightly smaller dollar amount, into 2012. That's intended to get the nation beyond this crisis and snag enough votes from House Republicans who won't raise the debt limit without spending cuts, too.
"I would prefer to have a bipartisan approach to solve this problem. If that is not possible, I and my Republican colleagues in the House are prepared to move on our own," said Boehner, R-Ohio.
Deeper and more complex reductions in the nation's deficits would be part of the deal, but under later timelines.
White House chief of staff William Daley said Obama is insisting that any package must expand the debt ceiling beyond the next presidential and congressional elections and into 2013 to provide economic certainty. Daley said anything short would be a gimmick and prompt the world to say: "These people just can't get their act together."
White House and congressional leaders talked past each other on the Sunday talks shows as negotiations unfolded in secrecy.
"There will be a two-stage process. It's just not physically possible to do all of this in one step," Boehner said amid White House insistence that the debt limit be extended beyond 2012. "I know the president is worried about his next election. But, my God, shouldn't he be worried about the country?"
Boehner planned to update Republican House members at 4:30 p.m. EDT. Republican leaders called the rank-and-file back to Washington earlier than expected for the new work week and set a mid-afternoon Monday meeting to go over the debt-limit legislation.
With an eye on the financial markets, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner insisted anew that United States would not default.
"It's just unthinkable," Geithner said. "We never do that. It's not going to happen."
The debt deal-making has consumed Washington for weeks and put on display a government that at times risks utter dysfunction.
Even after talks about between Obama and Boehner broke down in spectacular fashion Friday, Geithner said the two men were still negotiating.
He also suggested the ambitious framework the two leaders had discussed, targeting a deficit reduction of $4 trillion, remained under consideration.
"I don't know. It may be pretty hard to put Humpty Dumpty back together again," Boehner said of that grand plan. "But my last offer is still out there. I have never taken my last offer off of the table and they never agreed to my last offer."
That last offer included $800 billion in new tax revenues as part of a broad reform that would lower tax rates. Obama wanted $400 billion more in tax revenue for deficit reduction to help balance out the spending cuts, he said. Or, if not that, a reduction in some of the proposed cuts being discussed to entitlement programs such as Medicare.
The talks halted primarily over that issue and over how to ensure that both parties kept their reform promises in the months ahead.
Staff members of the congressional leaders from both parties were working to come up with an emergency plan.
Boehner said he wanted it a bipartisanship approach but was ready to move ahead if that didn't happen.
Any plan must get through the Democratic-run Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has called a short-term debt limit expansion unacceptable.
Obama's role looms, too.
Asked if Obama would veto a plan that did not extend the government's borrowing authority into 2013, Daley said, "Yes."
One key Republican lawmaker scoffed at the administration's opposition to a debt-ceiling plan that doesn't last into 2013.
"I think that's a ridiculous position because that's what he's going to get presented with," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
Under any scenario, Washington's leaders have run themselves almost out of time.
It will take days to move legislation through Congress. A default could cause catastrophic damage to the standing and the economy of the United States.
Daley said, in fact, the consequences are already taking hold.
"I don't think there's any question there's been enormous damage done to our credit-worthiness around the world," Daley said.
Boehner appeared on "Fox News Sunday." Geithner was on Fox, ABC's "This Week" and CNN's "State of the Union." Daley and Coburn spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press," and Daley also appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Associated Press writers Dave Espo, Alan Fram and Nedra Pickler contributed to this report.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.