Published June 29, 2011
President Obama called on Republicans Wednesday to drop their opposition to tax increases, saying "everybody else" is sacrificing their "sacred cows" for deficit reduction, GOP lawmakers should be willing to do the same.
The president also warned that Washington will soon run up against a "hard deadline" to strike a budget deal and raise the debt ceiling, rejecting suggestions that the situation is not as dire as the Treasury Department makes it out to be.
Though some Republicans claim the Aug. 2 deadline -- the date when Treasury warns the U.S. will face default if the cap is not raised -- is not firm, Obama warned that it is a serious deadline and that failing to raise the cap could cause investors to pull out of the U.S., leading Treasury to raise interest rates.
"The consequences for the U.S. economy will be significant and unpredictable," Obama said, while he denied engaging in "scare tactics." "Aug. 2 is a very important date and there's no reason why we can't get this done now."
The president is trying to salvage bipartisan budget talks that fell apart late last week when GOP negotiators bowed out. Obama is trying to find middle ground between the two parties on a plan to cut spending so he can muster a majority in Congress to approve an increase in the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by Aug. 2.
But Democrats, including Obama, continue to push hard for raising taxes as part of the deal, while Republicans are adamantly opposed to anything that resembles a tax hike. Senate Democrats said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon that the votes may not be there to support a budget deal if revenue increases are not included.
The president showed frustration Wednesday with being called on to resolve the dispute. He suggested Congress should stop going on recess and stay in Washington through the summer until a deal is done.
"You need to be here. I've been here," he said of Congress. "You stay here, let's get it done."
To get it done, Obama made clear he's pushing for tax increases in addition to spending cuts. Playing political hardball, he characterized the debate for Republicans as a choice between revamping a tax code that favors millionaires and depriving children of government aid.
"We're going to have to tackle spending in the tax code," he said. "It would be nice if we could keep every tax break there is, but we've got to make some tough choices here if we want to reduce our deficit."
He pushed proposals to end tax breaks for corporate jet owners, as well as for oil and gas companies -- and claimed that everything from food safety to college scholarships to the weather service could be in jeopardy if revenue is not included as part of a deal.
"Ask Republican constituents if they're willing to compromise their kids' safety so some corporate jet owner continues to get a tax break," he said. Later in the press conference, Obama also praised the U.S. airplane industry as "an area where we still have a huge advantage" globally.
Obama said he and Vice President Biden will work "as long as it takes" to strike a deal with Republicans. He expressed confidence that that could happen.
In his opening remarks, the president also called on lawmakers to renew a payroll tax cut that took effect on Jan. 1, identifying it as one of several measures lawmakers could approve to help create jobs.
The biggest sticking point in the talks has been the issue of tax hikes, which Republicans resolutely oppose. House Speaker John Boehner, speaking on Fox News Tuesday night, reiterated that he opposes any tax increase as part of a deal.
"There are no votes in the Congress ... to raise taxes on anyone, so tax increases are off the table," Boehner said.
The speaker also predicted that the Obama administration will soon issue warnings that Americans might not get their Social Security checks or that doctors might not get Medicare payments if the debt ceiling issue is not resolved in the coming weeks.
"It is predictable. It is going to come. What we've got to do is continue to press our case with the American people that cutting spending now and dealing with our long-term debt will help create a better environment for job creators in our country," Boehner said.
Obama faced several foreign policy questions at the press conference Wednesday, particularly on Libya. Though lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have criticized the administration's handling of the mission, Obama said the complaints amount to a lot of "fuss."
"We have done exactly what I said we would do," Obama said, noting that no U.S. troops are on the ground and NATO allies are playing a big role in what he described as a "limited operation."
The House has twice rebuked the president for his handling of the conflict, but the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday passed legislation authorizing force for a year.
The president on Wednesday again called for Muammar al-Qaddafi to leave power. "He needs to step down. He needs to go," Obama said.
Addressing economic woes, Obama also called on Congress Wednesday to pass several measures he claimed would help jump-start the economy.
The president called on Congress to pass free-trade agreements, approve money for infrastructure projects at the state and local level and pass a new patent law.
"I urge Congress to act on these ideas now," he said, touting his administration's efforts to scrutinize government regulations and look at ways to provide help for small businesses and start-ups.
Wednesday's news conference comes amid persistent signals that the economic recovery has slowed. Obama has been stepping up his promotion of job creation initiatives amid evidence that the state of the economy has weakened his job approval standing with the public.
Obama's last full-blown news conference was in March, when turmoil in Libya first drew in the U.S. military and the threatened shutdown of the government was making headlines. Obama has since answered questions in brief sessions with reporters during a European trip and during a joint White House appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Obama also recently announced a drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, prompting criticism by some lawmakers that he was not pulling enough forces out and by others that he was acting too precipitously.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.