Republicans on Wednesday greeted coolly President Obama’s challenge that they deal immediately with raising the debt ceiling and related issues, with one key GOP senator urging Democrats to give up their Fourth of July break to work on the issue.
At his news conference, Obama called on Congress to pass a variety of economic measures -- free trade as well as patent reform. But he reserved his most direct language for the stalemate over raising the debt ceiling, repeating his call for a balanced approach that would include increasing revenues.
The House’s top Republican immediately decried the position of the president and fellow Democrats, saying again that the GOP would not accept any tax hikes.
“The president’s remarks today ignore legislative and economic reality and demonstrate remarkable irony,” Speaker John Boehner said in a prepared statement. “The president is sorely mistaken if he believes a bill to raise the debt ceiling and raise taxes would pass the House. The votes simply aren’t there -- and they aren’t going to be there.
“A debt-limit increase can only pass the House if it includes spending cuts larger than the debt-limit increase; includes reforms to hold down spending in the future; and is free from tax hikes,” Boehner stated. “The longer the president denies these realities, the more difficult he makes this process. If the president embraces a measure that meets these tests, he has my word that the House will act on it. Anything less cannot pass the House.”
On the Senate side, where the GOP is in the minority, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, criticized the majority Democrats, whom he blamed for failing to pass a budget or to deal with fiscal issues. He also renewed his call to work through the holidays, a response to Obama’s earlier challenge.
“Until we work on a budget, until we work on the debt limit — until we work on the people’s business — we have no right to adjourn this body,” Sessions said. “To do so would be to fail the public once again.”
At his news conference, Obama recounted how his daughters, Malia and Sasha, managed to get their homework done in a timely fashion rather than waiting for the last moment before a deadline hit. If they can do it, so can Congress, he said, verbally twisting the political knife.
“I’ve been here,” Obama told reporters. “I’ve been doing Afghanistan and [Osama] bin Laden and the Greek crisis.
“You stay here,” the president said to lawmakers. “Let’s get it done.’’
Congress and the president must sign off on a plan for raising the $14.3-trillion debt ceiling by Aug. 2., which Obama called a “hard deadline.” Failing to raise the ceiling could put the United States into default, roiling the international markets and causing turmoil at home.
But Republicans and Democrats are split over how to deal with the debt increase coupled with spending cuts. Republicans have ruled out any tax increase, and Democrats insist on what they call a balanced approach that would include revenue increases such as ending some tax breaks. Republicans also argue for deep restructuring of entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid opposed by Democrats.
Talks seemingly broke down last week when Republicans called for Obama to take a more personal role. At his news conference, Obama defended his participation, saying he and administration had been working on the issue. He called on the Republicans to exert leadership to deal with political sacred cows and come to an agreement.
Obama called for progress this week and noted that the Senate was scheduled to be out next week for the holiday. Sessions took the floor and argued the failure was the Democrats’.
“Before the Memorial Day recess, I presented to the majority leader a letter, signed by 46 Republican Senators, stating that we should not recess but remain in session to work on a budget plan,” Sessions said. “Rather than face a vote on adjournment, the majority leader opted for a series of ‘pro forma’ sessions where the Senate gavels in only to gavel out moments later, having once again not done any work.
“So I renew the request from our letter,” he continued. “We also owe the people we serve an open, honest debate over the debt limit. This shouldn’t be a negotiation behind closed doors, revealed to the public at the last moment, rushed to passage in a panic — only to learn later of more gimmicks and empty promises.”
The Republican National Committee derided Obama for holding a news conference it said was “about nothing” and quoted a variety of pundits describing the president’s tough tone. House Democrats praised Obama.
“Bravo! This is the fight House Democrats have been making for the last six months under the Republican majority as they move to end Medicare and continue tax breaks for Big Oil,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a prepared statement. “The president has spoken out and there will be a clearer understanding of what the choices are for the American people.”