Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- The gulf between President Obama and a divided Congress grows ever wider as the debt-limit crisis stumbles toward a potentially catastrophic deadline.

Tempers flared Wednesday at the high-level negotiating session, with Obama walking out of the meeting at one point, angrily warning House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, "Don't call my bluff. You know I'm going to take this to the American people."

But apparently the president, who thinks he can tax his way out of this mess, is unaware that Americans are strongly behind Cantor and the Republicans on the issue of tax increases versus spending cuts.

The Gallup Poll reported Thursday that when people are asked how Congress should deal with the mountain of deficits and debt that threaten to sandbag our economy, 50 percent "prefer spending cuts to tax hikes."

The nationwide poll showed 20 percent saying the debt should be dealt with only through spending cuts, while another 30 percent said "mostly spending cuts."

Only 32 percent said they would prefer to cut the deficits equally between tax hikes and spending cuts, with just 11 percent saying "only" or "mostly" with tax increases.

Neither side is giving an inch as the Aug. 2 deadline looms, when the government will run out of sufficient capital to pay all of its bills.

The White House and most Republican leaders agree that failure to raise the debt limit will roil the financial markets and could plunge our fragile economy into yet another recession.

Even if an agreement is reached in the negotiations, leading credit rating agency Moody's warned mid-week, our AAA credit rating could still be downgraded. With the government's public debt rapidly approaching $15 trillion -- or more than our economy's entire gross domestic product -- our debts now exceed our total income.

A downgrade would mean not only that the Treasury would have to pay higher interest rates to borrow money, but it would also drive up interest rates for mortgages, car and business loans, and credit cards.

"President Obama wants a big deficit reduction deal -- a long-term solution to the nation's unbalanced finances. Yet, what the president and Republicans propose -- even if both could accept much of what the other offers -- would only delay the inevitable. Like Greece, America's finances will grow worse and worse," writes University of Maryland business economist Peter Morici.

The reasons: Dangerously excessive spending levels that even the largest economy in the world cannot afford to maintain, and a snail's-pace 2 percent economic growth rate, combined with near-zero job creation and an ever-climbing unemployment rate, that have flattened federal tax revenues.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.