The Corner

Obama: Debt Talks Complicating Efforts to Spend More

At this morning’s press conference, President Obama continued to push for the “largest possible deal” in exchange for raising the debt ceiling and ruled out the possibility of a short-term fix. “I will not a sign a 30-day or 60-day or 90-day extension,” he said. “We might as well do it now.”

Obama called on Republicans to “take on their sacred cows” by agreeing to significant tax increases. In return, the president said he would convince Democrats, the “vast majority” of whom would prefer to “do nothing on entitlements,” to accept meaningful changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. And despite the fact that House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) has publicly rejected such a deal, Obama said he remains hopeful that a large-scale agreement is “possible” if both sides are willing to make some politically unpopular decisions for the good of the country. “I’m prepared to take on significant heat from my party to get something done,” he said. “The American people want to get something done.”

The president made clear that any deal must be long-term (i.e., through the 2012 election), threatening to veto a short-term increase to the debt limit. “This is the United States of America, we don’t manage our affairs in three-month increments,” he said. Now is the time for politicians to “pull off the band-aid” and “eat our peas,”  he added.

Obama praised Boehner as “a good man who wants to do right by his country” and “very sincere about trying to do something big,” but was profoundly critical of “the politics” by which Republicans took control of the House (and Boehner the role of speaker) in 2010. “[The politics] are good for a midterm election; they are tough for governing,” Obama said, blaming the GOP’s refusal to agree to tax increases on “a political process where folks are rewarding for saying irresponsible things to win elections.”

“I do not see a path to a deal if they don’t budge, period,” he said. “I have a stake in John Boehner successfully persuading his caucus that this is the right thing to do.” The president even hinted that he would refuse to sign a deal that did not include significant tax hikes. “I will not accept a deal . . . in which I am allowed to keep hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional income that I don’t need,” he said.

“I might want more revenues and fewer cuts to programs that benefit middle class families that are trying to send their kids to college,” he said. “I’m willing to move in their direction in order to get something done, that’s what compromise entails . . . that’s what the revenue debate is about.”

Throughout the press conference, the president made clear just how bored he was with the whole process of trying to reduce the debt and deficit. “Most Democrats . . . would prefer not to have to do anything on debt and deficit problems,” he said. “I’d rather be talking about stuff that everybody welcomes, like new programs or the NFL season getting resolved. Unfortunately this is what’s on our plate.”

Yes, new programs. In fact, Obama was fairly explicit about why he is so keen to cut a “large deal” on the debt limit. In response to a question about why his administration was not doing more to actively address the worsening jobs situation, Obama explained: “Taking an approach that costs trillions of dollars is not an option. What we can do is to solve this underlying debt and deficit problem for a long period of time, so that then we can get back to having a conversation about . . . are there some strategies that we could pursue that would really focus on some targeted job growth.”

In other words, he really would like to be spending trillions more on “job” “creation” right now, but “the politics” of reducing the deficit is complicating those ambitions. “We can’t even have that conversation if people feel as if we don’t have our fiscal house in order,” he lamented. As such, he expressed his desire to “get this problem off the table” in order to free up the political capital necessary allow the government to “make the kind of investments that I think are going to be necessary to win the future.”

Obama at times even seemed to be begging for GOP support for a bigger deal, conceding that a sizable down payment on the debt would have “a positive impact in overall growth and employment” — something Republicans have been arguing for months while Democrats have insisted that more spending is the only way forward. That said, Obama argued that reducing the deficit and eliminating economic uncertainty could be “only a part” of an “aggressive” agenda to turn around the “stubborn” unemployment rate and an economy that has “moved slower than we wanted.” Hence the calls for more stimulus spending on projects like a massive infrastructure bank and an additional extension of the payroll tax cut.

Obama meets with congressional leaders at the White House starting at 2 p.m. today to continue negotiations. Despite his firm rhetoric at the press conference, the president remained confident that a deal will happen. “We are going to get this done by August 2,” he said.


Andrew StilesAndrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...


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