Making a surprise appearance at the White House briefing Tuesday afternoon, President Obama claimed that he and Republicans “are now closer than we have ever been to getting an agreement” on a budget deal for the rest of FY2011, though his tone and other remarks indicated he was frustrated with what he perceived to be GOP intransigence.
The president and Vice President Biden met this morning with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Kentucky, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and by all accounts no agreement was reached.
When asked who would be to blame if there’s a shutdown, the president said, “I don't think the American people are interested in blaming somebody. They want people to fix problems and offer solutions. They're not interested in finger pointing and neither am I.”
And yet throughout his remarks the president made it clear that in his view Republicans were putting politics and ideology above what was best for the nation.
Democrats had “matched the number” in cuts that the House Speaker originally sought, the president said, pointing to what he described as $73 billion in cuts (Republicans say the number is $33 billion, discounting the cuts made in the stop-gap funding bills.)
The president even suggested that the Republicans might be behaving a tad immaturely, saying that the American people expect everyone in the negotiating room to "act like grown-ups, and when we are in negotiations like this, that everybody gives a little bit, compromises a little bit in order to do the people's business.”
He said, "we can't have a 'my way or the highway' approach to this problem, because if we start applying that approach where I've got to get 110 percent of everything I want or else I'm going to shut down the government, we're not going to get anything done this year."
Said the president later in his remarks: “Nobody gets a hundred percent of what they want. And we have more than met the Republicans halfway.”
Charged Mr. Obama: “The only question is whether politics or ideology are going to get in the way of preventing a government shutdown…At a time when the economy is just beginning to grow or we're just starting to see a pickup in employment, the last thing we need is a disruption that's caused by a government shutdown.”
The president also assailed the “policy riders” House Republicans have added to the budget, pushing specific cuts to National Public Radio and Planned Parenthood. The president called it inappropriate to use the budget debate “to have arguments about abortion, to have arguments about the Environmental Protection Agency, to try to use this budget negotiation as a vehicle for every ideological or political difference between the two parties. That's what the legislature is for, is to have those arguments, but not stuff it all into one budget bill.”
The president said that he and his team were “prepared to meet for as long as possible” to find an agreement.
“My understanding is that there's going to be a meeting between Speaker Boehner and Harry Reid this afternoon at 4:00,” the president said. “The speaker apparently didn't want our team involved in that discussion. That's fine. If they can sort it out, then we've got more than enough to do. If they can't sort it out, then I want them back here tomorrow…. I will invite the same folks that we invited today. And if that doesn't work, we'll invite them again the day after that.”
Last night Boehner criticized the White House for using budgetary gimmicks to achieve their proposed cuts. “I’ve made clear that their $33 billion is not enough and many of the cuts that the White House and Senate Democrats are talking about are full of smoke and mirrors,” Boehner said.
President Obama argued that the GOP criticism is disingenuous, that whether the cuts are to “mandatory spending” or “discretionary spending,” his proposed cuts are still cuts; they're still reducing the size of government; they're still getting rid of those things that we don't need in order to pay for the things that we do need.”
The president pointed out that Republicans used some of the same accounting techniques to achieve their budget a few months ago.
“We recognize that given the fiscal situation that we're in, everybody's got to make some sacrifices, everybody's got to take a haircut,” the president said. “And we've been willing to do that.” But, he added, “we're not going to cut those things that we think are absolutely vital to the growth of the American economy and putting people back to work.”
The president said it would be “inexcusable” to not reach an agreement. The American people, “don't like these games,” he said. “And we don't have time for them.”