President Barack Obama came out swinging at Congress, blaming both parties in both Houses for getting the country into the debt crisis in a bid to deflect criticism about his own leadership.
At his first press conference since March, he said he is “amused” that he is getting the blame when it is Congressional leaders who need to step up to the plate and work.
“I met with every single caucus for 1-1/2 hours each,” Obama said.
“Republican Senators, Democratic Senators, Republican House, Democratic House. I’ve met with the leaders multiple times. At a certain point they need to do their job.”
He said that too many senior members of Congress “say a lot of things to satisfy their base or get on cable news,” but it is now time to change.
“Hopefully leaders will rise to the occasion and do the right thing for the American people. Call me naïve but my expectation is that leaders are going to lead."
Obama made it clear that the debt crisis has been caused by measures passed by Congresses in the past and the current one cannot walk away.
“This isn’t a situation where Congress is going to say ‘okay we won’t buy this car or we won’t take this vacation.’ They took the vacation, they bought the car and now they’re saying ‘maybe we don’t have to pay or we don’t have to pay as fast as we said we were going to pay.’
“That’s not how responsible families act. And we’re the greatest nation on earth and we can’t act that way."
The President warned those in Congress looking forward to a long summer break that they are going to have to “cancel things” and stay in Washington until a deal on raising the $14.3 trillion debt limit is reached as, he said, the Aug. 2 deadline set by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is real and there would be serious implications of the parties cannot compromise. “This is urgent,” he said.
“I’m President of the United States and I want to make sure I’m not engaging in scare tactics. I try to be responsible and somewhat restrained, so folks don’t get spooked. But Aug. 2 is a very important date.”
He said too many seemed to be thinking that once the recess is on them “Obama’s got to step in.” But he told them, “You need to be here. I’ve been here. I’ve been doing Afghanistan and bin Laden and the Greek crisis. You stay here. Let’s get it done.”
At one stage, he even mentioned his own daughters, comparing them to Congress. “Malia and Sasha generally finish their homework a day ahead of time. It’s impressive. They don’t wait till the night before and pull an all-nighter.
“They’re 13 and 10. Congress can do the same thing. If you know you have to do something, just do it.”
Obama had no compromise for Republicans who say that the only way to solve the debt crisis is to cut spending. Playing to his own Democratic base, he insisted that revenues will have to be raised through tax hikes and closing loopholes for corporations and the very wealthy. Several times he referred to oil companies, hedge fund managers and the owners of corporate jets as those who will have to make sacrifices.
He said “every single observer who’s not an elected official” agreed that the only way to bridge the debt gap was to address both spending and revenues and he called on Republicans to accept that, saying, “Democrats have had to accept some painful spending cuts that hurt some of our constituents and that we may not like. We’ve shown a willingness to do that for the greater good.
“If everybody else is willing to take on their sacred cows and do tough things, then I think it will be hard for the Republicans to stand there and say that the tax breaks for corporate jets is sufficiently important that we’re not willing to come to the table and do that.”
He also stressed that he wanted to make sure that cuts to payroll taxes are extended, but he said that if Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner came to him with a deal on the debt ceiling he could deal with it.
“If that was the situation they presented, I think we would have a serious conversation about that. I would not discount that completely.
Obama started the meeting by saying that his administration is trying to relax regulations on business in a bid to jump start the economy.
“We are reviewing government regulations so we can fix any rules that are in place that are unnecessary. We’re working with the private sector to get small businesses and startups the finance they need to grow and expand.”
Then he immediately jumped in with what was to be the theme of the day – his criticism of Congress, calling on it to pass bills on patent reform, on creating jobs for construction workers, on trade agreements and by extending the cuts to payroll taxes.
“Many of these ideas have been tied up in Congress for some time, but all of them have enjoyed bipartisan support and all of them could help the economy,” he said.
On the deficit talks, he insisted that everything has to be on the table. “We can’t get to the $4 trillion in savings we need by just cutting the 12 percent of the budget that pays for things like medical research and education funding and food inspectors and the weather service.
“And we can’t just do it by making seniors pay more for Medicare. We’re going to need to look at the whole budget. We have to eliminate waste wherever we find it and make tough decisions about priorities.
“That means trimming the defense spending. It means we’ll have to tackle entitlements as long as we keep faith with seniors and children with disabilities by maintaining the fundamental security that Medicare and Medicaid provide. And yes we’re going to have to tackle spending in the tax code.
“If we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires and corporate jet owners and for oil and gas companies who are making hundreds of billions of dollars then that means we got to cut some kids off from getting college scholarships. That means we’ve got to stop funding certain grants for medical research. That means that food safety might be compromised. That means that Medicare has to bear a large part of the burden.”
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