WASHINGTON, April 20 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's administration is urging Congress to raise the United States' $14.3 trillion debt limit before the Treasury Department is forced to default on its obligations.
The debate is likely to take months as Republicans and Democrats will almost certainly open a new fight over government spending cuts and try to win political points ahead of the 2012 elections.
Here are some of the key players in the debate:
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
Obama hopes Congress will raise the debt limit without attaching limits on spending or other conditions, but even he has admitted that's not likely. After sitting out the debate over spending and budget deficits for much of the year, Obama put forward a deficit-reduction plan last week and is now trying to sell it to the public in campaign-style appearances across the country. Obama is running for a second term and budget cuts and the size of government are likely to be key issues in next year's elections.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN
Biden has deep ties in Congress thanks to his long tenure in the Senate. He has taken a lead role in budget negotiations and will lead bipartisan talks that Obama hopes by late June can bridge the gaps between Republican and Democratic plans.
HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER
Boehner won the largest domestic spending cut in U.S. history as part of a long-delayed budget deal that passed Congress last week, but he had to rely on Democratic votes to pass it after 59 members of his Republican party decided that it did not go far enough. He will be under pressure to deliver further spending cuts to satisfy conservative Tea Party activists who have shown little appetite for compromise.
HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN PAUL RYAN
A formerly obscure congressman from Wisconsin, the 41-year-old Ryan is now going head-to-head with Obama after the Republican-held House passed his deficit-reduction plan on a party-line vote last week. Ryan's budget blueprint would trim deficits by $4.4 trillion over the coming decade by imposing hard caps on domestic spending, lowering top tax rates.and scaling back government-run health plans for the poor and the elderly.
Though his plan will not pass the Democratic-controlled Senate in its entirety, portions of it could win passage if Republicans attach them to debt-limit legislation.
TREASURY SECRETARY TIMOTHY GEITHNER
The former New York Federal Reserve president and former Republican is the administration's point man on the debt ceiling. Geithner has already warned lawmakers in letters and in person of catastrophic consequences if they fail to increase the country's borrowing limit.
Although Geithner angered Republicans by pushing the Dodd-Frank regulation bill, they will listen to him and are actively seeking his input.
He is the only remaining member of the administration's original economic team. In recent days, he has taken to the airwaves to reassure markets that Congress will do the right thing.
WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER GENE SPERLING
Director of the White House National Economic Council, Sperling is a heavyweight Washington veteran who did the same job for President Bill Clinton and is a key figure in the deficit debate. He ensures Obama's economic team works smoothly together. Progressives like him, but Republicans can also do business with him.
WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR JACK LEW
Another Clinton-era veteran who has also previously run the White House Office of Management and Budget and helped steer the United States to a budget surplus. He is seen as a straight-shooting details man who is unflappable and non-ideological and who can get a deal done.
SENATE BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN KENT CONRAD
A moderate Democrat from North Dakota, Conrad is expected to lay out his party's response to Ryan's budget plan in the next several weeks. At the same time, he has been involved with the "Gang of Six", a group of three Democratic and three Republican senators that are trying to forge a deficit-reduction plan able to win support from both parties.
SENATE REPUBLICAN LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL
McConnell's Republicans don't control the Senate, but he is not afraid to use the Senate's arcane rules to slow action in the chamber to a crawl. Expect him to reach deep into his bag of procedural tricks to make life as difficult as possible for Democrats as the debate heats up.
REPUBLICAN SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS
A leader of the Gang of Six, the conservative senator from Georgia could face the wrath from fellow Republicans for refusing to rule out tax increases as part of a deficit-reduction plan.
SENATE ASSISTANT DEMOCRATIC LEADER DICK DURBIN
Durbin serves as his party's chief vote counter in the Senate. A liberal who is close to Obama, Durbin also is participating in the "Gang of Six" talks.
HOUSE DEMOCRATIC WHIP STENY HOYER
As his party's chief vote counter in the House, with close ties to party moderates, Hoyer could be in a position to soften Republican spending cuts if Boehner can't round up enough votes to pass a deal on his own. (Reporting by Andy Sullivan and Rachelle Younglai; Editing by Kieran Murray)