WASHINGTON - A scheduled meeting between President Obama and top congressional leaders has been postponed while negotiators grow closer to a deal to avert default and end the government shutdown.
Obama, visiting a local food bank, told reporters that if congressional Republicans don't agree to an increase in the debt ceiling by Thursday, "we stand a good chance of defaulting."
At 3 p.m. ET, Obama will meet at the White House with bipartisan congressional leaders: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Vice President Biden will also attend the session.
Negotiators have made "progress" on a deal to raise the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling and reopen the government after a 14-day partial shutdown, Obama told reporters - but nothing is final "until the details are done."
Reid and McConnell, the Senate's top Republican, began talks over the weekend in search of an agreement that would lift the $16.7 trillion budget ceiling before the government hits it on Thursday. The deal could also end the partial government shutdown, which began Oct. 1.
Reid and McConnell appeared together on the Senate floor after meeting Monday. Reid said "constructive, good faith negotiations continue" and both leaders expressed confidence a deal would be reached.
"I'm very optimistic we will reach an agreement," Reid said.
"I share his optimism that we will get a result that is acceptable to both sides," McConnell added.
Said the president: "We'll see this afternoon whether this progress is real."
An agreement by the Democratic-run Senate must also be approved by the Republican-run House.
House Republicans ceded negotiations to Senate leaders after Obama rejected Boehner's most recent offer to raise the debt ceiling for six weeks.
A key issue in the current talks is whether the agreement will affect unpopular, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration. Democrats would like to turn off the cuts for at least two years in exchange for other spending changes, but Republicans want to maintain the stricter spending limits.
House Republican leaders are scheduled to meet Monday; a full GOP conference meeting is set for Tuesday.
At one time, congressional Republicans said they would not vote for a new spending plan or raise the debt ceiling unless Obama delayed parts of the new health care law - but such delays are not part of the proposed agreement.
Obama warmed up for the congressional meeting by visiting Martha's Table, which serves low-income families in Washington.
Wearing a green apron, Obama spoke with furloughed federal workers who have volunteered at the food bank, praising them for "giving back to the community."
As for the shutdown and debt ceiling disputes, Obama denounced what he called Republican "brinkmanship," and put the onus on the GOP to reach agreement.
"There are going to be differences between the parties," Obama said. "There are going to be differences in terms of budget priorities. But we don't need to inflict pain on the American people, or risk the possibility of America's full faith and credit being damaged just because one side is not getting its way."
He added: "This whole shutdown has been completely unnecessary."
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