Obama Takes GOP to Task for Breakdown of Debt Talks: ‘Can They Say Yes to Anything?’

By MichaelJames

Jul 22, 2011 8:04pm

ABC News’ Mary Bruce (@marykbruce) reports:

The gloves came off when President Obama stepped into the briefing room tonight to explain the details behind the breakdown of what he called “an extraordinarily fair deal” to reduce the deficit and raise the debt ceiling.

The visibly frustrated president took House Republicans and Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to task for refusing to budge on revenue increases.

“The question becomes: Where's the leadership? — or alternatively: How serious are you actually about debt and deficit reduction, or do you simply want it as a campaign ploy going into the next elections?” Obama told reporters.

The president declared that Boehner walked away from the deal that would have cut discretionary spending, enacted entitlement reforms and increased revenues.

“Up until sometime early today, when I couldn't get a phone call returned, my expectation was that Speaker Boehner was going to be willing to go to his caucus and ask them to do the tough thing, but the right thing,” Obama said.

Finally disclosing the details of the plan, the president said the White House offered more than $1 trillion in cuts to discretionary spending, $650 billion in cuts to entitlement programs and, in return,  asked Republicans for $1.2 trillion in additional revenues by eliminating loopholes and engaging in tax reforms.

While the president admitted Democrats wanted more revenue than they had initially offered, he said that spending cuts were at least as significant as those put forward in the bipartisan proposals.

From tax reform, “there were about $800 billion in revenue that were going to be available, and what we said was, 'When you've got a ratio of $4 in cuts for every $1 of revenue, that's pretty hard to stomach,'” Obama told reporters in what turned into an unexpected press conference.

“In other words, this was an extraordinarily fair deal.  If it was unbalanced, it was unbalanced in the direction of not enough revenue,” he said.

Obama said it wasn’t enough for Republicans.

“Can they say yes to anything?  I mean, keep in mind it's the Republican Party that has said that the single most important thing facing our country is deficits and debts,” Obama said.  

“If you don't have revenues, the entire thing ends up being tilted on the backs of the poor and middle-class families.  And the majority of Americans don't agree on that approach,” he added.

The president said he was willing to stick his neck out and take heat from his own party by putting forward a deal that was unbalanced in the Republicans favor if it meant significant deficit reduction could be achieved.

“This whole episode has indicated the degree to which at least a Democratic president has been willing to make some tough compromises,” Obama said.  “This is not a situation where somehow this was the usual food fight between Democrats and Republicans.  A lot of Democrats stepped up in ways that were not advantageous politically.  So we've shown ourselves willing to do the tough stuff on an issue that Republicans ran on.”

With the clock ticking toward default, the president was adamant that “we have run out of time.” While he would still like to see a large package to reduce the deficit, the president seemed resigned to accepting a new bottom line: a deal to extend the debt ceiling through 2013.

“I remain confident that we will get an extension of the debt limit and we will not default.  I am confident of that,” he said. “I am less confident, at this point, that people are willing to step up to the plate and actually deal with the underlying problem of debt and deficits.  That requires tough choices.”

That said, Obama made clear that if the U.S. does, in fact, default,  “it's fair to say” the House Republicans would have to take responsibility for whatever problems arise in Social Security payments.

Obama has called congressional leaders back to the White House Saturday at 11 a.m. ET. Boehner, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Missouri, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada will attend.

“They are going to have to explain to me how it is that we are going to avoid default," Obama said. "And they can come up with any plans that they want and bring them up here and we will work on them.”

–Mary Bruce

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