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Obama agenda: 'Decision time'

The New York Times: “President Obama threw the deadlocked budget negotiations back to Congress on Thursday, telling Republicans and Democrats to try to work out an agreement to avert a government default, and suggesting that more ambitious efforts to cut the deficit had hit a wall. After a polite but inconclusive session that covered familiar ground and made no headway, Mr. Obama told the Congressional leaders to confer with their rank-and-file members over the next 24 to 36 hours to ‘figure out what can get done,’ said a Democratic official briefed on the negotiations.”

The Washington Post adds, “‘It’s decision time,’ Obama told congressional leaders after meeting at the White House for a fifth straight day. Obama gave Republicans until early Saturday to tell him whether any of three options for trimming the federal budget would win GOP support. ‘We need concrete plans to move this forward,’ he said.”

“A backup plan to cut the federal deficit and keep the U.S. government from default gained momentum Thursday even as President Barack Obama and congressional leaders paused their negotiations to determine if they can reach a deal,” the Wall Street Journal says. “The so-called Plan B is taking shape in quiet discussions between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), away from unhappy House Republicans who don't favor the approach."

"It would link a package of spending cuts to a plan Mr. McConnell proposed earlier this week that would give the president the power to raise the debt limit through 2012 in three installments, unless two-thirds of Congress voted to block it. It likely wouldn't include any tax increases, a senior Democratic aide familiar with the discussions said. Messrs. McConnell and Reid are also exploring the idea of creating a committee to identify further deficit-reduction measures and force a congressional vote on the package. The mechanism would be similar to the commission once established by Congress to make politically difficult choices to close military bases."

Jonathan Alter writing in Bloomberg: “I get the feeling that it’s all over but the shouting. We may look back and say that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s convoluted parliamentary ‘backup plan’ marked the effective end of the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis. The winner? President Barack Obama.” More: “If you went into the congressional kitchen to cook up the perfect Washington fudge, this is what you’d get. Instead of “doing something big” about the deficit, McConnell is proposing to do nothing -- then blame the other side.”