WASHINGTON — In unprecedented back-to-back appearances on nationwide television, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner clashed Monday night over the cause and cure for the nation’s debt crisis. The two men spoke as Congress remained gridlocked on legislation to avert a threatened default after Aug. 2.

Decrying a “partisan three-ring circus” in the nation’s capital, Obama assailed a newly minted Republican plan to raise the nation’s debt limit as an invitation to another crisis in six months’ time. He said congressional leaders must produce a compromise that can reach his desk before the deadline.

“The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government,” the president said in a hastily arranged prime-time speech. He appealed to the public to contact lawmakers and demand “a balanced approach” to reducing federal deficits — including tax increases for the wealthy as well as spending cuts.

Responding moments later from a room near the House chamber, Boehner said the “‘crisis atmosphere” was of the president’s making.

“The sad truth is that the president wanted a blank check six months ago, and he wants a blank check today. That is just not going to happen,” the speaker said. “The president has often said we need a ‘balanced’ approach, which in Washington means we spend more, you pay more.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a statement after the president and Boehner spoke that “time is running short. Americans expect their elected leaders to come together and solve problems, and we are facing one of our biggest challenges.”

Collins has expressed support for the so-called Gang of Six bipartisan plan in the Senate that aims to cut the deficit by at least $3.7 trillion over 10 years through a mix of spending cuts and increased revenues from closing some tax loopholes.

At this point, Collins said, she will review the contrasting short-term paths forward proposed by the GOP House speaker and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. But she said she is disappointed that Obama has not proposed “his own detailed way forward.”

Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine said the complex debt ceiling talks should have begun in earnest in January. Now, any final debt ceiling agreement should include a specific date for Congress “to vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution so that we ensure this fiscal fiasco is never repeated,” Snowe said in a statement after the speech.

“I hear and share the frustration felt by many Mainers that this is another episode of Washington’s inability to get to a solution,” Snowe said.

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, also used the word “disappointed” after Obama’s speech, to describe his reaction to what he charged is a partisan and dysfunctional “Washington debate” that will have a negative impact on millions of Americans.

“Despite all the unnecessary political posturing, at least the House and Senate have recognized the need to move a plan forward,” Michaud said in a statement. “Unfortunately, they introduced competing plans, rather than working together to come up with a bipartisan solution. Time is running short, and it’s critical we find common ground fast.”

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, said Obama was “exactly right in pointing out the incredible risk of playing with our economy and people’s lives for political reasons. We’re at the point where people are wondering what to do next week if they don’t get their Social Security or veterans benefits. Yet a radical few say that’s OK if it means scoring political points and protecting tax breaks for the country’s wealthiest.”

Obama stepped to the microphones in the East Room of the White House a few hours after Republican lawmakers, then his own Democrats, drafted rival emergency legislation to head off a potentially devastating default.

The back-to-back speeches did little to suggest that a compromise was in the offing, and the next steps appeared to be votes in the House and Senate on the rival plans by midweek.

Despite warnings to the contrary, U.S. financial markets have appeared to take the political maneuvering in stride — so far.

Wall Street posted losses Monday, but with no indication of panic among investors.

Without signed legislation by day’s end on Aug. 2, the Treasury will be unable to pay all its bills, possibly triggering an unprecedented default that officials warn could badly harm a national economy still struggling to recover from the worst recession in decades.

Obama wants legislation that will raise the nation’s debt limit by at least $2.4 trillion in one vote, enough to avoid a recurrence of the acrimonious current struggle until after the 2012 elections.

Republicans want a two-step process that would require a second vote in the midst of the 2012 campaign with control of the White House and both houses of Congress at stake.

– MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind contributed to this report.