July 11, 2011 -- President Obama injected a sense of urgency into the high-stakes deficit talks today, calling on lawmakers in both parties to "pull off the band-aid" and compromise on spending cuts and tax increases.
"I've been hearing from Republicans for some time that it's a moral imperative to deal with our debt and deficit in some way. So what I've said to them is, 'let's go,'" he said at a White House press conference just hours before congressional leaders are slated to return to the negotiating table.
Obama has endorsed a "balanced approach" to deficit reduction that would trim close to $4 trillion over the next decade through a mix of spending cuts -- including changes to some entitlement programs -- and tax increases for wealthier Americans and corporations.
Many Republicans oppose a deal that would result in higher taxes, while many Democrats oppose cuts or changes to entitlement programs, like Medicare.
"Do you need to raise taxes to get control of spending? I think the answer is no," House Speaker John Boehner said at a press conference before heading to the White House.
"The president continues to insist on raising taxes, and they're just not serious about entitlement reform in the near term," he said. "It takes two to tango, and they're not there yet."
The president acknowledged the seemingly insurmountable standoff today, but said leaders on both sides need to sacrifice some of their "sacred cows" to get a deal done. He also rejected the possibility of a short-term extension of the debt ceiling to buy more time for negotiations.
"We might as well do it now," Obama said of the aversion to compromise in both parties. "Pull off the band-aid. Eat our peas. Let's step up. Let's do it. I'm prepared to take significant heat from my party to get it done. I expect the other side should do the same."
But so far that has proven easier said than done.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has categorically ruled out any cuts or changes to entitlement program benefits, while many Republicans have publicly drawn a line in the sand over taxes.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday that "big tax increases in the middle of an economic situation [are] extraordinarily difficult with 9.2 percent unemployment. We think it's a terrible idea. It's a job-killer."
The president said any proposed tax increases would not take effect until 2013, and praised the sincerity of House Speaker John Boehner to consider them. But facing stiff resistance from within his party, Boehner over the weekend reportedly ruled out the idea.
Both sides may now consider a smaller deficit reduction package -- perhaps around $2 trillion -- sources say, based on some of the spending cuts identified by both sides during talks led by Vice President Joe Biden over the past few weeks.
The debate over a deficit reduction package is a prelude to dealing with a bigger issue: raising the nation's debt limit, which must happen by Aug. 2 or the U.S. will run out of money and could default on some of its loans, administration officials say.
Republican leaders have insisted that, at a minimum, any increase to the legal amount the nation can borrow to pay its bills must be matched with corresponding cuts in spending.
But leaders from both parties say they're confident the U.S. will not default. "We are going to get this done by Aug. 2," Obama said today.
Default by the U.S. would send ripples through the global economy and cause hardship for many Americans at home. Government checks to Social Security recipients, veterans, and federal employees could all be suspended. Interest rates would skyrocket across the board. And the stock market could plummet, hurting millions of Americans' retirement plans.
"I would hope that there is enough bipartisan intelligence and understanding of the challenge that is ahead of the United States, but also the rest of the world," International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagard said Sunday on "This Week."
Talks will continue this afternoon at the White House -- the third meeting since Obama became directly involved in the talks. Negotiators for both sides are expected to meet every day until a deal is reached.