Confrontational Obama rebukes GOP on debt talks

By Ben Feller

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, June 29 2011 6:50 p.m. MDT

The House, under Republican control, has been in recess this week but is to return on Tuesday. Democrats hold a majority in the Senate.

Obama said even his daughters, 12-year-old Malia and 10-year-old Sasha, get their homework done ahead of deadline. "Congress can do the same thing," the president said. "If you know you've got to do something, just do it."

Obama sought to reframe the entire debt debate in terms people would care about, accusing Republicans of protecting tax breaks for corporate jet owners on the backs of college students who would lose their federal aid — even though there is no direct relationship between that tax provision and any particular budget cut. He spoke of eliminating tax cuts that favor the rich and oil companies — "I don't think that's real radical" he said — but Republicans contend the White House is pursuing far broader tax changes that would undermine job creation.

At his first formal White House news conference in more than three months, Obama also pushed back against Republican criticism of the U.S.-aided military campaign in Libya, saying congressional concerns about consultation were not substantive.

And he even took a sharp tone toward the business leaders that his White House has tried to court. "The business community is always complaining about regulations," he said in response to one question. "Frankly, they want to be able to do whatever they think is going to maximize their profits."

The president stepped to the podium not long after the International Monetary Fund publicly urged lawmakers to raise the U.S. debt limit, now $14.3 trillion, and warned that failure to do so could produce a spike in interest rates and "severe shock to the economy and world financial markets."

Obama also spoke on the same day that Senate Republicans announced support for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution that would establish a new requirement for a two-thirds majority of each house of Congress to raise taxes. "Washington has to stop spending money we don't have," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

On the deficit, Obama said both parties must be prepared to "take on their sacred cows" as part of the negotiations, with Democrats accepting cuts in government programs.

Republicans in Congress have been insistent in recent days that any deficit reduction be limited to spending cuts, including reductions in benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, and exclude additional revenues.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Wednesday that Obama "can't call for tax hikes and job creation. It's one or the other."

At Obama's behest, Vice President Joe Biden met for weeks with bipartisan teams from the House and Senate on a package to cut the deficit and, in turn, earn support to raise the debt limit to pay for costs already incurred. Democrats proposed about $400 billion in additional tax revenue, including ending subsidies to oil and gas companies.

The talks halted when Republicans said there was an impasse over the tax issue, and they called on Obama to get more involved.

He bristled over that at the news conference and suggested that ultimately Republicans will give ground on the need to raise revenue, not just cut spending.

"Here in Washington, a lot of people say a lot of things to satisfy their base or to get on a cable news," he said, "Hopefully, leaders at a certain point rise to the occasion and they do the right thing for the American people."

Associated Press writers David Espo, Erica Werner and Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.

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