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'Very close' to debt deal; Boehner plan with an escape hatch

A Republican source close to the negotiations tells NBC News that both sides are "very close" to agreement on a two-step debt-ceiling deal.

It is essentially the original Boehner plan -- without the balanced-budget amendment and with modified triggers, what amounts to an escape hatch if a joint committee can't get the cuts needed.  The plan would get enough in cuts, roughly $1 trillion, to last about six or seven months.

At the same time, a joint congressional committee would be established that would be tasked with getting enough in cuts to raise the debt ceiling again and get past the 2012 election - in the range of $1.4 trillion to $1.8 trillion.

The source said the White House's concern was that if a joint committee couldn't find something, the White House wanted a way to access the second tranche. The original Boehner plan did not include a way without the joint committee finding something.

Here are the options if a committee can't find something:
1.    A balanced-budget amendment sent to states, which is "not going to happen," the source said. (NBC's Mike Viqueira reports there would be a separate vote on a balanced-budget amendment);
2.    Across the board cuts that include Medicare and Defense, but NOT Social Security. The goal is that just the threat of this should provide "total motivation" for a committee to find a solution.

The whole thing then triggers the McConnell disapproval process, in which a two-thirds majority would be needed to disapprove of the president's spending proposals.

The original Boehner plan didn't have the votes to pass the House in the first try this past week. But this should pass, because it should get the support of many Democrats. Democrats aggressively whipped against the original Boehner proposal.

A House GOP Leadership aide says, "Discussions are moving in the right direction, but serious issues remain. And no agreement will be final until Members have a chance to weigh in."