Obama takes tougher tone with GOP on debt debate
President Obama intensified pressure on congressional Republicans in negotiations over the federal debt, depicting GOP leaders as supporting tax breaks for jet-setting executives at the expense of college scholarships or medical research.
Tribune Washington bureau
WASHINGTON — President Obama intensified pressure on congressional Republicans in negotiations over the federal debt, depicting GOP leaders as supporting tax breaks for jet-setting executives at the expense of college scholarships or medical research.
Obama's decision to chastise Republican leaders in an hourlong televised news conference Wednesday moved the debt talks out of the realm of closed-door meetings and into full public view. The administration plans to follow up by sending top officials to appear on television to echo the president's message and build a consensus behind what he calls a "balanced" approach to deficit reduction.
Obama and Republicans have been locked for more than a month in a confrontation over increasing the nation's borrowing limit. Republicans have insisted they will not approve the increase unless Obama and congressional Democrats agree to long-term spending cuts. Top Republicans also pulled out of discussions with Vice President Joseph Biden last week, objecting to a White House demand that any deal include additional revenue.
The president is prone to delivering lengthy answers in a professorial tone, relying on abstract ideas. By contrast, he laid out his arguments Wednesday in simple, everyday terms, echoing a former president he has been studying: Ronald Reagan.
"These are bills that Congress ran up," Obama said, explaining why the nation must not default on its debt obligations. "They took the vacation. They bought the car. Now they're saying, 'Maybe we don't have to pay.' "
Obama cited a high-profile tax break offered to owners of corporate jets several times, even though it would bring in only an estimated $3 billion over 10 years. Other Democratic proposals would net $41 billion by tightening oil-and-gas credits and $21 billion by eliminating credits for hedge-fund managers.
The largest Democratic tax proposal would limit deductions claimed by those earning more than $500,000 a year. In all, the White House said this year that it wants $760 billion in new revenue over 10 years.
Obama painted a stark image of winners and losers under the GOP debt deal. Oil companies already making money "hand over fist," he said, would continue to receive taxpayer subsidies, at the expense of "a bunch of kids out there who are not getting college scholarships."
Medical research would be undermined and food inspection weakened if Republicans pursue their "maximalist position," he said.
Obama chided lawmakers for taking frequent recesses instead of finishing work on the issue, noting his two young daughters exhibit more diligence in doing their homework than Congress has shown.
"They don't wait until the night before," he said. "They're not pulling all-nighters. Congress can do the same thing."
Reacting to the criticism, senators are considering abandoning a weeklong Fourth of July recess, and House leaders said they would stay in session until negotiations were finished.
Republican leaders offered scant hope of a shift on the issue of tax revenues, but some in the GOP rank-and-file indicated they would consider new revenue sources, a potential challenge to party unity.
"I'm not too sympathetic to all these jets myself, so I'd be willing to consider that," said Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Budget Committee.
Others said it would depend on which loophole was being eliminated.
The government reached the limit of its borrowing ability in May, and federal officials warn that maneuvers to continue paying the nation's bills will be exhausted by Aug. 2, risking a default on federal obligations.
Underscoring the concerns, the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday warned that failure by Congress to raise the borrowing limit could result in "a severe shock to the economy and world financial markets."
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