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Obama: Debt Limit Fight Imperils Elderly's Checks

"We might not be able to pay our troops, or honor our contracts with small business owners," he said. "Food inspectors, air traffic controllers, specialists who track down loose nuclear materials wouldn't get their paychecks. Investors around the world will ask if the United States of America is in fact a safe bet. Markets could go haywire, interest rates would spike for anybody who borrows money. Every homeowner with a mortgage, every student with a college loan, every small business owner who wants to grow and hire."

At this moment, the government faces three looming deadlines: The debt limit must be raised soon to meet spending obligations and prevent a first-ever default, a series of across-the-board spending cuts is to kick in on March 1, and funding for most government programs will run out on March 27.

After Obama won tax rate increases for wealthier Americans during budget negotiations last month, Republicans became doubly determined to win spending cuts. They see the confluence of events ahead of April 1 as their best opportunity.

Just weeks from hitting the first of the deadlines, the two sides are neither on the same page nor pursuing a common approach. In 2011, Obama and Boehner at least started off agreeing on the premise that the increase in the debt limit be matched dollar-for-dollar with deficit cuts, spread out over a decade. Obama ultimately won a $2.1 trillion debt increase, but only after agreeing to an equal amount of spending cuts over 10 years.

This time, White House officials believe the president has a stronger hand, having won re-election and, at least partially, the tax increases on which he had campaigned.

Eager to avoid blame for a default or for missed payments to seniors, some Republicans are getting ready to insist on certain payment priorities by the Obama administration if the debt ceiling is not raised in a timely manner.

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