President Obama challenged Republicans to deliver on their rhetoric about the nation's debt and deficit problems, insisting that "now is the time to deal with these issues."
In a White House news conference just hours before he's set to meet again with congressional leaders on the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, Obama warned that if Republicans failed to compromise on a solution, it could further depress the nation's already struggling economy and "throw millions of more people out of work."
The president emphasized that he will not sign a short-term, stop-gap effort to raise the debt ceiling. He instead pressed for a way to solve the problem for a "long stretch of time," calling on lawmakers from both sides to "step up" and make compromises on an essential issue before 2012 politics gets in the way.
"We might as well do it now. Pull off the Band-Aid. Eat our peas," Obama said. "If not now, when?"
Obama is continuing to press congressional leaders for "as large a deal as possible" and insisted it's still possible to "use this moment to do something meaningful" about the country's dismal fiscal state.
"(It's) irresponsible," he said. "They know better."
The president insisted that "nobody" has talked about raising taxes this year or next year--though he acknowledged he's still pressing for a rollback on tax cuts for the wealthy in 2013. Rather, he reiterated his call for a mix of spending cuts, revenue increases and "meaningful" changes to entitlement programs. But he acknowledged that both sides would have to take on their "sacred cows"--for Republicans, tax cuts, and for Democrats, cuts to Medicare and Social Security--if any deal is to be hammered out.
"It is possible for us to construct a package that would be balanced … that would share sacrifice," Obama appealed. "There's going to be resistance ... If each side takes a maximalist position, if each side wants a hundred percent of what its ideological predispositions are, then we can't get anything done. And I think the American people want to see something done. They feel a sense of urgency, both about the breakdown in our political process and also about the situation in our economy."
He called House Speaker John Boehner's efforts in the negotiations "sincere," but declined to say whether he believes Boehner can win over members of his own party on a deal. Still, in a thinly disguised dig at Boehner and other GOP leaders, Obama sought to contrast his own leadership on the issue, insisting he's willing to break with his party to get a deal because it's the right thing for the country.
"I am prepared to take on significant heat from my party to get something done," Obama said. He suggested Republicans should do the same "if they mean what they say."
Boehner has been under intense pressure from members of his party to reject any deal that could potentially be viewed as a tax increase. Over the weekend, the speaker rejected Obama's call for a large-scale solution, instead proposing a "smaller measure." But House Republicans had previously rejected a smaller deal during negotiations led by Vice President Joe Biden.
It was the second news conference in a week for Obama, as he continues to negotiate with congressional leaders on the debt ceiling. It's a nod that Obama knows the risk to his own political future should the nation go into default. The White House has said it hopes to have a deal in place by July 22--less than two weeks before the Aug. 2 deadline by which Treasury Department officials say the U.S. will begin to default on its debts.
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