The White House and House Republicans are now engaged in negotiations over raising the debt limit, and to give you an idea of how far along they are, consider this: Republicans have taken the lead by demanding cuts to accompany a hike, but we shouldn't interpret that general stance as a detailed proposal.
House Speaker John Boehner has asked for spending cuts equal to, or greater than, the amount by which the debt limit is increased. He made that point in a May 9 speech to the Economic Club of New York:
"So let me be as clear as I can be. Without significant spending cuts and reforms to reduce our debt, there will be no debt limit increase. And the cuts should be greater than the accompanying increase in debt authority the president is given.
"We should be talking about cuts of trillions, not just billions.
"They should be actual cuts and program reforms, not broad deficit or debt targets that punt the tough questions to the future.
"And with the exception of tax hikes -- which will destroy jobs -- everything is on the table. That includes honest conversations about how best to preserve Medicare, because we all know, with millions of Baby Boomers beginning to retire, the status quo is unsustainable.
But Republicans haven't gotten more specific than that. We don't know, for instance, over what time-period those cuts will take place. House Republicans this week rejected Obama's proposal, included in his 2012 budget plan, for an increase in the limit from $14.3 trillion to $16.7 trillion. If Obama and Republicans eventually agree to raise the limit by $2.4 trillion, for instance, Boehner's demand could be satisfied by $2.4 trillion in future spending cuts plotted out over the next 50 or 75 years, if an entity such as the Congressional Budget Office prorates the savings that far into the future.
Having laid out their demands in a general sense, Republicans are waiting for the White House to make an offer before getting more specific. Until the president sends them a new request to raise the ceiling, apart from what he mapped out in his budget proposal, we're unlikely to hear any talk of dollar amounts or areas of cutting.
"At this point, we don't have a formal debt limit increase request, so we don't even know how much money we're talking about," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
The next found of formal negotiations will happen on Capitol Hill next Thursday, led by Vice President Biden.