President Obama used the power of his bully pulpit to try force House Republicans to forge a deficit-reduction deal with Democrats that would raise the debt ceiling but would not force massive cuts to entitlement programs while sparing the wealthiest Americans from higher taxes and “shared sacrifice.”
Obama delivered a televised address to the nation Monday night, followed by an equally adamant response by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). After a frustrating week of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats full of fits and starts and ever-evolving proposals, Obama turned to the only weapon left in his arsenal: the power of the presidency to try to leverage public opinion to his side and wrangle a last-minute change of heart from Republicans.Obama spent much of his speech discussing the American people’s deep frustrations with Washington’s polarized gridlock.
“They’re fed up with a town where compromise has become a dirty word,” Obama said. “They work all day long, many of them scraping by, just to put food on the table. And when these Americans come home at night, bone-tired, and turn on the news, all they see is the same partisan three-ring circus here in Washington. They see leaders who can’t seem to come together and do what it takes to make life just a little bit better for ordinary Americans. They are offended by that. And they should be.”
Right now, Democrats and Republicans remain far apart on their paths forward. Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) are pushing dueling plans to raise the debt limit on or before August 2, to avoid a default, which could weaken an already fragile world economy .
The plans are similar in key ways, but differ on perhaps the last sticking point in the debt limit debate: Whether the debt limit should be raised all the way into 2013, or whether Congress should replay this debt limit fight again early next year, to force Democrats and Republicans to pass entitlement and tax reforms
If Congress passes the House GOP approach, Obama said, the nation and the financial markets will be dragged into this nettlesome debate again next year when all eyes are focused on the 2012 presidential election and political tensions are running extremely high.
“[Next year the] House will once again refuse to prevent default unless the rest of us accept their cuts-only approach,” Obama said in his remarks. “Again, they will refuse to ask the wealthiest Americans to give up their tax cuts or deductions. Again, they will demand harsh cuts to programs like Medicare. And once again, the economy will be held captive unless they get their way.”
“That is no way to run the greatest country on earth,” he continued. “It is a dangerous game we’ve never played before, and we can’t afford to play it now. Not when the jobs and livelihoods of so many families are at stake. We can’t allow the American people to become collateral damage to Washington’s political warfare.”
The President acknowledged that elections matter and voters elected a Republican majority in the House last fall, but he said that doesn’t mean that the American people want a government that plays chicken with the full full faith and credit of the United States by creating uncertainty in the financial markets through its inaction.
“The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government,” Obama said.
Obama called on voters who support a more “balanced approach” to make their voices heard by writing or calling their member of Congress.
“If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message,” he urged.
Following Obama’s speech, Conservative Republicans took to the air to slam Obama’s insistence on raising additional tax revenues to offset cuts to pet Democratic programs, such as Medicare and Social Security.
Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), a Tea Party darling who defeated longtime GOP Sen. Robert Bennet last year in the primary, accused Obama of being “stuck in the 70s.”
Lee complained that the Senate Democratic leaders never allowed the balanced budget amendment package, known as Cut, Cap and Balance, the House passed last week to have a chance of passing the Senate.
“What will the imperial majesty jam down our throats next,” Lee said on Fox News. “CCB was tabled in the Senate…never debated or discussed in Senate.”
Lee also criticized Obama and Reid for looking for a “pre-cooked deal” that won’t be able to debated or amended.
But Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), a budget expert who served as the director of the Office of Management and Budget in the last Bush administration, said the situation is a lot more hopeful that Obama’s speech conveyed.
“We’re focused in the Senate on what the markets are telling us we need to focus on,” Portman said on CNN, adding Congress needs to raise the debt limit, enact tax reform, impose spending cuts, and make serious structural changes to entitlement programs.