President Barack Obama addressed the country during an extraordinary press conference late this afternoon about the status of the debt ceiling after House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) walked away from talks. Summoning the leadership of the House and Senate to his office at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow for answers about how we will avoid default, the president spoke passionately, with fire, frustration, and, at times, anger at the intransigence of the Republicans.
He said that he had offered Boehner more than $1 trillion in discretionary cuts, $650 billion in entitlements while preserving the integrity of the “big three” of social security, Medicare and Medicaid. In addition, the president sought revenues less than the Senate “Gang of Six” plan, but included $1.2 trillion in additional revenues without hiking tax rates by eliminating loopholes, some deductions, and reforming the tax structure.
The president called the offer an “extraordinarily balanced deal” while being willing to take a lot of heat from [his] party.” He emphasized that despite the unpopularity of the plan among his own party, Democratic leaders have stepped up, willing to swallow this pill.
“It is hard to understand” why Speaker Boehner was willing to walk away, Obama commented, clearly frustrated with intransigent Republicans, particularly with the Tea Party contingent (though he did not name them specifically).
The Republicans earlier this week passed a “cap, cut and balance” plan which would mean a bigger burden on seniors, education, research, and on services going to middle America while asking nothing of corporations and the rich. If you have no revenues, the whole thing gets tilted on the backs of the poor. The Senate rejected the plan earlier today.
President Obama stated flatly that he refuses to “kick the can” down the road for several months. They must extend the debt celling beyond the 2012 election, and cannot do this five, six or eight months from now. “If we can’t come up with a serious plan for reduction, then the probabilities for downgrading are increased, causing an additional cloud, making it more difficult for business,” he argued.
Insisting on a balanced package, Obama noted that Americans are “fed up” with inability of politicians to “take action.” In particular, said the president emphatically, Republicans must answer whether they “can say yes to anything.”
Knowing that many Republicans are locked into Grover Norquist’s “no taxes” pledge, the president asked on behalf of the nation, “What can you say yes to?” If the only answer, he continued, is in massive cuts to entitlements and domestic spending with no other cuts—what they’ve already voted on—“if that’s the only answer,” he reiterated, “it will be pretty difficult to know where to go with this.”
Obama insisted that lawmakers “have to put aside talk radio and activists.” He put the blame squarely on Republicans, noting that while House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) did not like the package he put forward, they understand the importance of getting this done now, he maintained, and “because it’s important.” The Republicans, he insisted, have refused to entertain anything else.
President Obama stated that at a minimum, lawmakers must raise the debt ceiling. Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have worked out an agreement that would place all responsibility for increasing the debt limit on the president, something Obama was willing to accept. “Happy to do it,” he said. But, he refuses to “continue to play games for a few months and do it again” should Congress propose a shorter-term debt ceiling increase.
In the end, Obama stressed that he was confident that something would be arranged. Because, he said, “I cannot believe that Congress would be that irresponsible that it would give a self-inflicted wound to the economy.” However, he also said that he believed at this point, “there is no capacity for them to say yes,” referring to Republicans upon whom he placed the blame for the stalemate in negotiations.
“This is not the usual food fight. A lot of Democrats stepped up to do unpopular things among Democrats,” he argued. “The American people are fed up with politics. If you want to be a leader, you have to lead.”