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Obama, Some Polls On His Side, Keeps Debt-Ceiling Pressure On GOP

President Obama holds a news conference in the White House briefing room Friday.
Alex Wong
Getty Images
President Obama holds a news conference in the White House briefing room Friday.

It was a confident-sounding President Obama clearly sensing he had the wind of political opinion at his back who on Friday discussed the debt-ceiling crisis with those in the White House briefing room and the nation beyond.

Obama said his "balanced" approach of reducing deficits through spending cuts and tax increases was preferred by a supermajority of Americans: 80 percent, the president said.

It was his way of painting congressional Republicans, who have insisted on spending cuts alone for deficit reduction, as being out of touch with the American people.


Answering a question from NBC News' Chuck Todd which implied that Obama had missed an opportunity over the past year to persuade the public that both taxes and spending had to be addressed for an effective deficit solution, Obama said:

Chuck — Chuck, you have 80 percent of the American people who support a balanced approach; 80 percent of the American people support an approach that includes revenues and includes cuts. So the notion that somehow the American people aren't sold is not the problem. The problem is, members of Congress are dug in ideologically into various positions, because they boxed themselves in with previous statements.

Gallup actually found a somewhat smaller majority favoring reducing deficits through tax increases and spending cuts. A recent poll put the percentage of public support for using both fiscal levers at nearly 70 percent, with 32 percent saying taxes and expenditures should be affected equally.


Still, it seemed indisputable that the president at the present moment at least had the stronger argument about having public opinion on his side than did congressional Republicans, at least in terms of how to reduce the deficit.

Of course, the president didn't mention that most Americans appear opposed to the debt ceiling being raised in the first place.

The president's appearance Friday was partly about driving the discussion by pundits and the American people over the weekend. It's the last weekend before a deal must be achieved, according to the White House timeline, to meet the Aug. 2 date beyond which the Treasury Department runs out of accounting tricks to pay the nation's bills.

Earlier in the week, when Rep. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and Tea Party tribune in the House leadership got on the president's nerves, the president told the congressman not to call his bluff. Obama also said he would take his case to the American people. Friday was one way to make good on that promise.

Obama, for example, clearly wants Americans to come away with the impression that his reasonableness is being thwarted by what he alleges is Republican unreasonableness.

His message is that he's willing to make deep and painful spending cuts so long as increasing tax revenues is part of the overall picture:

And I think it's important for the American people that everybody
in this town set politics aside, that everybody in this town sets our individual interests aside and we try to do some tough stuff. And I've — I've, you know, already taken some heat from my part for being willing to compromise. My expectation and hope is that
everybody in the coming days is going to be willing to compromise.

Obama also made an argument that if Republicans thwart a timely debt-ceiling increase, they will in effect be responsible for taking money out of Americans' pockets as effectively as any tax increase.

We could end up with a situation, for example, where interest rates rise for everybody all throughout the country — effectively, a tax increase on everybody — because suddenly, whether you're using your credit card, you're trying to get a loan for a car or a student loan, businesses that are trying to make payroll — all of them could end up being impacted as a consequence of a default.

And he restated his position that the House Republican demand for $2.4 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years without any tax revenue increases, including even the closing of loopholes, would require too great a sacrifice from ordinary Americans.

But if you're trying to get to 2.4 trillion (dollars) without any revenue, then you are effectively gutting a whole bunch of domestic spending that is going to be too burdensome. It is not going to be something that I would support.

You know, just to be very specific, we've identified over a
trillion dollars in discretionary cuts, both in defense and domestic

That's hard to do. And that requires essentially that you freeze spending — and when I say freeze, that means you're not getting inflation, so that these are programmatic cuts that over the course of 10 years you'd be looking at potentially a 10 percent cut in domestic spending.

Now, if you then double that number, you're then — at that point you're really taking a big bite out of programs that are really important to ordinary folks. I mean, you're talking then about students accumulating thousands of dollars more in student loan debt every year. You're talking about, you know, federal workers and veterans and others potentially having to pay more in terms of their health care.

So, you know, I have not seen a credible plan, having gone through the numbers, that would allow you to get to $2.4 trillion without really hurting ordinary folks. And the notion that we would be doing that and not asking anything from the wealthiest among us or from closing corporate loopholes, that doesn't seem like a serious plan to me.

I mean, the notion that, for example, you know, oil company tax breaks, where the oil executives themselves say they probably don't need them to have an incentive to go out and drill oil and make hundreds of billions of dollars — you know, if we haven't seen the other side even budge on that, you know, then I think most Democrats would say that's not a serious plan.

And the president made a pre-emptive strike on the House Republican plan, announced Friday morning, to vote on a balanced-budget amendment next week. He dismissed it as a political ploy and ultimately unnecessary.

... My expectation is that you'll probably see the House vote on a couple of things just to make political statements...

... And you know, I think it's important for everybody to understand that all of us believe that we need to get to a point where eventually we can balance the budget. We don't need a constitutional amendment to do that. What we need to do is to do our jobs, and we have to do it the same way a family would do it.

The reaction from Speaker John Boehner, the Ohio Republican, to the president's news conference won't surprise anyone who's been paying attention to the fight between Obama and congressional Republicans.

"President Obama has been talking tough about cutting spending, but his deeds aren't matching his words. Consider all of the government boondoggles he has refused to put on the table for cuts: ObamaCare; the so-called 'green jobs' initiative; high-speed rail; and a vast array of other pet projects that are unnecessarily costing taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. While Republicans have focused on the big problems we face, this White House has focused on protecting the status quo. The same holds true for entitlement spending, where the White House has been talking in terms of nickels and dimes at a time when trillions of dollars in serious reforms are needed to preserve the programs and put them on a sustainable path.

"As Moody's and Standard & Poor's have signaled this week, our nation's economy is literally begging for Washington to take meaningful action to cut spending and reduce the deficit. It is absurd and self-destructive to continue dumping taxpayer money into a 'stimulus' philosophy that has consistently failed to support private-sector job creation in our country. The White House must step up and embrace real spending reforms and cuts that will show job creators America is finally serious about addressing the debt. Democrats and Republicans must lock arms together in the days ahead and real action to stop the spending binge that has put our nation in economic jeopardy."

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