Obama calls on Congress to ‘seize the moment’ on debt talks

President Obama with new immediacy today reiterated his call for a sweeping plan to deal with the nation's long-term debt problems. He warned GOP lawmakers that time is running out on a deal that would prevent the U.S. from defaulting on its financial obligations.

In his second news conference this week on the issue, Obama called on lawmakers to give him a "serious" plan to raise the debt ceiling within the next 24 or 36 hours. But he emphasized the need for Congress to "put politics aside" and tackle an "ambitious" solution to the nation's deficit problems--not just a quick fix.

"We have a unique opportunity to do something big," Obama said. "We have a chance to stabilize America's finances for a decade, for 15 or 20 years, if we are willing to seize the moment."

But the president acknowledged it would be "tough" to get Democrats and Republicans to agree on a significant proposal before Aug. 2, when the Treasury Department says the U.S. will begin defaulting on its more than $14 trillion debt. Obama warned that if nothing is done, Americans could be facing financial catastrophe, including more job loss and potentially higher interest rates, which he described as "effectively a tax increase on everybody."

"This is not some abstract issue," he warned. "Congress has run up the credit card and we now have an obligation to pay our bills."

As he did earlier this week, Obama insisted he's willing to break with his party and pursue cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare--though he insisted current beneficiaries wouldn't be affected. Asked specifically if he's willing to raise the retirement age, as some reports have suggested, Obama declined to say.

The president also pushed back on reports that the daily negotiations between him and GOP lawmakers have been contentious, dismissing it as a "reality TV" scenario with no basis in reality. He said the talks have been "constructive."

"The notion that things have gotten ugly is just not true," he said. "We've been meeting everyday…The American people aren't worried about whose feelings got hurt."

Obama called on Republicans to honor the "will" of the country, pointing to polls that show a majority of Americans, Republicans included, would accept a debt and deficit deal that includes a mix of spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy.

"The American people are sold," Obama declared. "The problem is that members of Congress are dug in ideologically."

He insisted Congress should "do the right thing" and pursue "the will of the American people."