What's more, House Speaker John Boehner would have to let the bill get to the House floor for a vote. Given the calendar, chances of accomplishing that by Dec. 31 were becoming a long shot.
Amid the standoff, Geithner advised Congress on Wednesday that the administration will begin taking action to prevent the government from hitting its borrowing limit. In a letter to congressional leaders, Geithner said accounting measures could save approximately $200 billion.
That could keep the government from reaching the debt limit for about two months. But if Congress and the White House don't agree on how to avoid the "fiscal cliff," he said, the amount of time before the government hits its borrowing limit is more uncertain.
"If left unresolved, the expiring tax provisions and automatic spending cuts, as well as the attendant delays in filing of tax returns, would have the effect of adding some additional time to the duration of the extraordinary measures," he wrote.
Whenever the debt ceiling hits, however, it is likely to set up yet another deadline for one more budget fight between the White House and congressional Republicans.
Initially, clearing the way for a higher debt ceiling was supposed to be part of a large deal aimed at reducing deficits by more than $2 trillion over 10 years with a mix of tax increases and spending cuts, including reductions in health programs like Medicare. But chances for that bargain fizzled last week when conservatives sank Boehner's legislation to only let tax increases affect taxpayers with earnings of $1 million or more.
Obama and his aides have said they would refuse to let Republicans leverage spending cuts in return for raising the debt ceiling. But Republicans say the threat of voting against an increase in the limit is one of the best ways to win deficit reduction measures.
Another potential showdown is pending. A renewed clash over spending could come in late March; spending authority for much of the government expires on March 27.
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