President Obama today ripped Republicans for refusing to accept tax hikes, even for the wealthiest Americans, as part of any deal to raise the nation's debt ceiling beyond $14.29 trillion.
"You can't reduce the deficit to the levels that it needs to be reduced without having some revenue in the mix," the president told a White House news conference after a breakdown in administration negotiations with Congress on reaching a debt-ceiling deal while at the same time reducing soaring deficits.
"And the revenue we're talking about isn't coming out of middle-class families who are struggling. It's coming out of folks who are doing extraordinarily well.
"That's not radical," he said.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio has led the chorus of Republicans refusing to agree to any tax increases as part of a deal. Tuesday Boehner shrugged off the Aug. 2 deadline set by the Treasury Department for raising the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling as "artificial" and emphasized that "we cannot miss this opportunity" to close the country's growing budget gap.
Debt negotiations between the administration and Congress stalled late last week. Vice President Joe Biden had been meeting for weeks with congressional leaders from both parties in an effort to hash out an agreement to raise the nation's debt ceiling before Aug. 2, but those talks broke down once House Majority Whip Eric Cantor left the negotiations. Now the president is trying to get the talks back on track.
"They've made some real progress in narrowing down the differences," the president said today, noting that the two sides have already agreed on a "conceptual framework" with around $1 trillion in spending cuts.
"We've got to seize this moment, and we've got to seize it soon," he said.
In recent days the rhetoric surrounding the debt debate has heated up like the searing Washington summer weather. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Republicans bailed on the negotiations because they refused to scrap tax breaks for Big Oil companies or do away with tax loopholes for corporate jets. In turn, the Senate's top Republican Mitch McConnell replied that the GOP simply would not agree to higher taxes as the country continues to try to recover from the recession.
"They're saying that it's essential. We think it's a job-killing step that shouldn't be taken," McConnell said, reiterating the Republicans' stance that any tax hikes are a non-starter.
This week the president has sought to meet with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, starting with Reid and McConnell on Monday. Later today, Senate Democratic leaders are set to head back down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House for another meeting. Time, however, is of the essence.
Treasury has warned that a failure by Congress to raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit by Aug. 2 could trigger devastating consequences. Whenever an increase to the limit has been necessary in the past, Congress has never failed to raise the debt ceiling. But to date, with Congress divided and ever more focused on the 2012 elections, lawmakers have shown little sign of coming together on any agreement to raise the red ink limit.
Making matters worse for the White House, the debt stalemate has come as a slew of disappointing reports on the country's struggling economy poured in. Last month employers added only 54,000 new jobs, the slowest month of hiring since last fall, and the unemployment rate ticked up to 9.1 percent.
Unemployment Rate Signals Tough Road Ahead for Obama
The struggling jobs market could have serious implications for the president as he seeks re-election next year. No president since Franklin Roosevelt has been re-elected with an unemployment rate higher than 7.2 percent.
Despite consistent reminders from Democrats that Obama inherited an economy in disastrous shape, numerous prominent Democrats from Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin to Democratic National Committee chief Debbie Wasserman-Schultz have acknowledged that after 2½ years in office, Obama now owns the economy.
At today's press conference the president called on Congress to act on a series of pending measures that he said would boost the economy, from extending a payroll tax cut for another year to making it easier for entrepreneurs to patent a new idea to passing trade agreements with countries in Asia and South America.
"I urge Congress to act on these ideas now," he said.
The president today also faced questions on his foreign policy moves. The president's decision to intervene militarily in Libya has drawn a flurry of criticism from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who have argued that the administration did not consult adequately with them before taking action there.
"A lot of this fuss is politics," the president said. "If you look substantively at what we've done, we've done exactly what we said we'd do under a U.N. mandate."
Another key foreign policy topic for the commander in chief to address was the situation in Afghanistan. Last week he announced a plan to bring home 33,000 troops from the country by the end of next summer, but last night's attack on the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul served as a stark reminder of the precarious state of security there. The attack killed nine Afghan civilians, two police officers and nine attackers. Another 13 civilians and five police officers were injured. The attack came as Afghan provincial officials were set to meet at the hotel for a conference on the security transition.
The president's decision to start withdrawing troops, 10,000 by the end of this year and another 23,000 by the end of next summer, was more aggressive than the Pentagon had wanted. Both Gen. David Petraeus and Adm. Mike Mullen have acknowledged as much.
"What I can tell you is the president's decisions are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept," Mullen told the House Armed Services Committee last week.
Back on the homefront, the president today also faced questions about New York becoming the sixth state in the country to allow gay couples to wed. New York lawmakers approved the bill in a close vote late Friday night, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo quickly signed it. Gay couples can now get married starting 30 days after the signing. New York's law will double the U.S. number of those living under marriage equality laws.
Obama Believes in Equal Rights for Gays and Lesbians
In a statement released after the New York vote, a White House spokesperson said Obama has "long believed that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same rights and legal protections as straight couples. That's why he has called for repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and determined that his administration would no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA in the courts. The states should determine for themselves how best to uphold the rights of their own citizens."
"I think it's important for us to work through these issues because each community is going to be different and each state is going to be different," the president said today. "In the meantime, you know, we've filed briefs before the Supreme Court that say that we think that any discrimination against gays, lesbians, transgenders is subject to heightened scrutiny, and we don't think that DOMA is unconstitutional. So I think that the combination of what states are doing, what the courts are doing, the actions we're taking administratively, all are how the process should work."