President Barack Obama tried to go over the heads of GOP Congressional leaders on Friday, pleading with Republican voters to back his plans for revenue-raising measures to be included alongside spending cuts in a debt ceiling deal.
He claimed 80 percent of Americans support what he called “a balanced approach” to the problem and it is time Republicans on the Hill listened.
Taking repeated potshots at the GOP leadership, Obama said, “The American people do not want to see a bunch of posturing. What they want is for us to solve problems.
"The clear majority of Republican voters think that any deficit reduction package should have a balanced approach and should include some revenues," Obama said. "That's not just Democrats. That's the majority of Republicans.
“At what point do (Republicans in Congress) start looking to the people who put them in office?
“I don’t expect politicians to not think about politics. But every so often there are issues that are urgent, that have to be attended to that require us to do things that we don’t like to do.
“The problem is that members of Congress have dug in ideologically... They have boxed themselves in with their previous statements.”
Despite saying repeatedly that the country is running out of time with less than three weeks to the Treasury’s Aug. 2 deadline, the president seemed to downplay the problem. “We don’t have to do anything radical to solve this problem. We aren’t Greece, we aren’t Portugal,” he said.
“Our problem is we cut taxes without paying for them for the last decade. We ended up instituting programs like the prescription drug program for seniors that was not paid for. We fought two wars, we didn’t pay for them. We had a bad recession that required a recovery act and stimulus spending and helping states. All that accumulated and there’s interest on top of that.
“To unwind that, what’s required is to roll back those tax cuts on the wealthiest individuals.”
Obama was giving his third press conference in two weeks on the debt ceiling. The Treasury says the country will run out of money and will have to default on its debts in early August unless the $14.3 trillion limit is lifted.
He said he is still hopeful of a “big deal,” where the debt ceiling is dealt with at the same time as the “general underlying problem” of debt and deficits.
“But if we can’t do the biggest deal possible, then let’s still be ambitious,” he said. “Let’s still try to at least get a down-payment on deficit reduction. And that we can accomplish without huge changes in revenue or significant changes in entitlements, but we could still send a signal that we are serious about this problem.
“The fallback position… is one in which we raise the debt ceiling but we don’t make any progress in deficit and debt. If you take that approach, this issue is going to continue to plague us for months and years to come.”
He hit out repeatedly at members of Congress for taking the country to the brink over the debt ceiling, saying it was a problem manufactured in Washington. “Every one of the leaders has voted to raise the debt ceiling in the past,” he said.
“It’s important for the American people, politics aside, that everyone in this town sets individual interests aside and we try to do some tough stuff.
“The bottom line is that this is not an issue of salesmanship to the American people. The American people are sold.”
Obama downplayed the contentious end of talks on Wednesday when House majority leader Eric Cantor said the president stormed out. “This notion that things got ugly is just not true. We’ve been meeting every single day and we’ve had very constructive conversations.
“The American people are not interested in reality television aspects of who said what or did somebody’s feelings get hurt. They’re interested in solving the budget problem and the deficit and the debt.”
Obama said that cuts in defense spending are inevitable. “In addition to the $400 billion we’ve already cut…we want to look for hundreds of billions more.”
On entitlements, he described social security and Medicare as “the most important safety nets that we have” and joked that as he will be eligible for his AARP card in three weeks’ time when he turns 50, he has been thinking more about Medicare eligibility.
But he said Medicare reforms that require the very wealthy – including himself – to pay more, had to be on the table.
Obama dismissed the Republicans’ “Cut, Cap and Balance” approach, being especially derisive to the idea of a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget, which, he said, would take years to implement.
“We don't need a constitutional amendment to do that. What we need to do is do our jobs."
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