Obama Presses GOP for Debt Ceiling Deal

Obama Presses GOP for Debt Ceiling Deal

By Alexis Simendinger - July 11, 2011

If President Obama sought to cajole, inspire or persuade Republican lawmakers during his public remarks just hours before a new round of deficit talks began at the White House Monday, he went about it with a hammer, not honey.

Many Republicans, he suggested during a 49-minute news conference, are putting political considerations ahead of a potential bipartisan pact that tackles rising deficits over the next 10 years. Although the president praised House Speaker John Boehner for his willingness to "do something meaningful" in search of a $4 trillion mix of spending cuts and revenue changes, Obama said he has "bent over backwards to work with the Republicans," only to find them unwilling to embrace to the finish line the policies they otherwise espouse.

"I do not see a path to a deal if they don't budge, period," Obama said.

He said he has tried to identify a budget deal that doesn't raise taxes, to illustrate why the budget math cannot work without revenues as part of the mix. Obama said he has tried to be responsive to GOP complaints about burdensome federal regulations, and sent the Senate three trade pacts Republicans pressed the White House to deliver. Sounding frustrated, Obama complained that the White House and Democrats "haven't gotten the kind of movement that I would have expected."

The president, Vice President Joe Biden, and the House and Senate leaders ended their Monday afternoon negotiating session after 90 minutes and will reconvene Tuesday afternoon. As they began, Obama sat in the middle of the Cabinet Room table across from Biden with a blank legal pad in front of him. Only Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew brought a file folder thick enough to look as if serious horse trading could commence.

The ongoing stalemate prompted the president to say flatly several times to reporters that he would not sign any short-term measure to lift the debt ceiling for 30, 60, or 90 days, because the resulting uncertainty would hurt the economy and drag deficit negotiations into the 2012 election year, making an accord more unlikely. In the heat of this summer's political brinksmanship, Obama insisted he will not blink, but when asked, he did not sound like a leader with some emergency parachutes tucked away should negotiators fail to agree in the next few weeks.

The president took a swipe at lawmakers -- and Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann is one -- who vow not to raise the nation's cap on borrowing. "I will say that some of the professional politicians know better," Obama said. "And for them to say that we shouldn't be raising the debt ceiling is irresponsible. They know better."

Political pressures promise to escalate in the months ahead, making the need for compromise and a deficit-debt resolution that much more essential to achieve now, he added.

"[I]f we think it's hard now, imagine how these guys are going to be thinking six months from now in the middle of election season where they're all up [for election]," he said of Republican House members. "It's not going to get easier. It's going to get harder. So we might as well do it now -- pull off the Band-Aid; eat our peas. Now is the time to do it," he continued. "If not now, when?"

Obama's frustrations with his GOP negotiating partners provided additional evidence that the two parties stand on opposite sides of a deep chasm, and perhaps are even farther apart than a few weeks ago because of the posturing seen in all quarters.

To rebut Obama's lengthy news conference, Boehner met reporters on Capitol Hill before he arrived at the White House to make his case that "it takes two to tango." He said Republicans were opposed to higher taxes because of the harm tax hikes would inflict on economic recovery and jobs. Republicans believe that changes to reduce the budgetary costs of Medicare are necessary to ensure its solvency, the speaker said.

A loose July 22 deadline -- that is, by Friday of next week -- had been identified a week ago by the eight top leaders of the House and Senate, the president and Biden as a timetable for a deficit-shrinking compromise that could then be written into legislative language, scored by the Congressional Budget Office and voted on before August in the House and Senate. The Treasury Department believes Aug. 2 is when default will occur if Congress does not lift the nation's cap on federal borrowing.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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