WASHINGTON -- Ending a perilous stalemate, President Barack Obama and congressional leaders announced agreement Sunday night on an emergency deal to avoid to avert the nation's first-ever financial default. The arrangement would cut more than $2 trillion from federal spending over a decade.
The dramatic agreement, with scant time remaining before Tuesday's deadline, "will allow us to avoid default and end the crisis that Washington imposed on the rest of America," Obama said. Default "would have had a devastating effect on our economy," the president said at the White House, relaying the news to the nation and to financial markets around the world. He thanked the leaders of both parties.
House Speaker John Boehner telephoned Obama at mid-evening to say the agreement had been struck, officials said.
No votes were expected in either house of Congress until today at the earliest, to give rank-and-file lawmakers time to review the package.
But leaders in both parties were already beginning the work of rounding up votes.
In a conference call with his rank and file, Boehner said the agreement "isn't the greatest deal in the world, but it shows how much we've changed the terms of the debate in this town."
Obama underscored that point. He said that, if enacted, the agreement would mean "the lowest level of domestic spending since Dwight Eisenhower was president" more than a half century ago.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid provided the first word of the agreement.
"Sometimes it seems our two sides disagree on almost everything," he said. "But in the end, reasonable people were able to agree on this: The United States could not take the chance of defaulting on our debt, risking a United States financial collapse and a world-wide depression."
In his remarks, Obama said there will be no initial cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. But he said both could be on the table along with changes in tax law as part of future cuts.
That was a reference to a special joint committee of lawmakers that will be established to recommend a second round of deficit reductions, to be voted on by Congress before year's end as part of an arrangement to raise the debt ceiling yet again. That is expected to be necessary early next year.
Pending final passage, the agreement marked a dramatic reach across party lines that played out over six months and several rounds of negotiating, interspersed by periods of intense partisanship.
A final sticking point had concerned possible cuts in the nation's defense budget in the next two years. Republicans wanted less. Democrats pressed for more in an attempt to shield domestic accounts from greater reductions.
Details apparently included in the agreement provide that the federal debt limit would rise in two stages by at least $2.2 trillion, enough to tide the Treasury over until after the 2012 elections.
Big cuts in government spending would be phased in over a decade. Thousands of programs -- the Park Service, Labor Department and housing among them -- could be trimmed to levels last seen years ago.
No Social Security or Medicare benefits would be cut, but the programs could be scoured for other savings. Taxes would be unlikely to rise.
Without legislation in place by Tuesday, the Treasury will not be able to pay all its bills, raising the threat of a default that administration officials say could inflict catastrophic damage on the economy.
If approved, though, a compromise would presumably preserve America's sterling credit rating, reassure investors in financial markets across the globe and possibly reverse the losses that spread across Wall Street in recent days as the threat of a default grew.