As congressional leaders prepare to meet with President Obama at the White House today, House Speaker John Boehner said he will urge the president to put forward his own ideas to deal with a range of economic obstacles staring down lawmakers later this year.
"It's time for us to deal with the big issues that are affecting our country and our society," Boehner, R-Ohio, said at a news conference Wednesday morning on Capitol Hill. "We've spent enough time playing small ball."
Closed-door negotiations to reach a "grand bargain" between Obama and Boehner to deal with the debt and the deficit failed last year. But the problems have not gone away. Congress is expected to have to raise the debt ceiling sometime after the November election.
Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will all join Obama for a meeting in the president's private dining room late Wednesday morning to discuss their legislative priorities.
The speaker told reporters that he will push the president to present his own alternatives to extend the current tax rates, replace the defense sequester and rein in the country's debt.
"Where is the president's plan to tackle our looming debt crisis?" Boehner asked. "Where's the president's plan to stop the largest tax increase in American history from occurring on Jan. 1 st? Where is the president's plan to replace these indiscriminate cuts to our military, which will devastate their ability to keep America secure?"
Despite ratcheting up the rhetoric that's critical of the president over the past month, such as complaining that Obama has diminished the office of the presidency, the speaker said he expects a productive conversation with the president.
"It's not a personal issue. The president and I, as you well know, we get along fine," he said. "But he has issues with what I believe and frankly I've had some issues about what he believes in."
Boehner said that the debt crisis "is standing in the way of a lot of employers hiring new people" because "no one knows what the tax rates are going to be in January," when numerous provisions are set to expire.
"[The tax code] causes business people and investors to sit on their hands because the picture is uncertain, and then when it comes to what's going to happen to our military with these cuts in January, you can imagine that there are a lot of people concerned," the speaker said. "The defense secretary has made clear that these cuts will devastate our ability to keep our country safe. The White House has admitted that these cuts will have a devastating impact on our military, so where is their plan? It's as simple as that."
"I am not threatening default," Boehner insisted. "Let's remember something: The issue here is the debt - almost $16 trillion worth of debt, $1.3 trillion budget deficit again this year. One only has to read the publications that many of you write for to realize that the situation in Europe is becoming grimmer every day."
While an increase to the debt limit is not expected until after the November elections, Boehner urged lawmakers not to wait and instead "to begin to tackle this problem in an adult-like fashion."
"We have time to deal with our problems," he said. "What I'm trying to do is to encourage people on both sides of the aisle, on both sides of the Capitol and at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to be honest with the American people and to be honest with ourselves."