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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

GOP Chided For Filibustering On Debt Ceiling, Jobs & Taxes!

Obama Comes Out Swinging

Who was that combative president? The guy who came out swinging against tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, for big oil companies, for hedge fund managers, for corporate jet owners?

The Barack Obama we saw at an East Room news conference on Wednesday—drawing sharp distinctions and demanding concessions from Republicans—is the kind of partisan fighter that liberals have craved for the last two-and-a-half years. Gone was the conciliator-in-chief patiently trying to see all sides; in his place was an amped-up leader determined to pressure his opponents.

The transformation, however brief, was undoubtedly born of necessity. Obama is looking at a looming debt-ceiling deadline August 2, the budget talks are going nowhere fast, and there is a great sense of drift in Washington. It’s no coincidence that Obama, who began his administration with a string of prime-time pressers but soured on the format, chose this moment to hold his first full-dress session with reporters in nearly four months.

Obama had sort of receded into the background, allowing Vice President Biden to take the lead on the budget talks until Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican, bailed out. Now the president seems to have concluded that he has to use his rusty bully pulpit to take his case to the public—something he has done only sparingly since taking office.

His argument: The two parties have agreed to more than $1 trillion in spending cuts, but that’s not enough and revenue is needed as well. It makes no sense, he contends, to endlessly whack away at the 12 percent of the budget that pays for education, weather forecasting, and food inspections.

Instead, the president strafed some of the Democratic Party’s favorite targets: wealthy people, oil conglomerates, and Wall Street. They should sacrifice a bit before we ask seniors to pay more for health care, Obama said: “I don’t think that’s real radical.” And in case anyone missed the point, he chided congressional leaders for a “selfish” approach.

Obama positioned himself as a teller of hard truths, denigrating Republicans who insist on no new taxes as people trying “to satisfy their base or get on cable news”—then expressing hope that they could “rise to the occasion.” He even took a swipe at Congress taking frequent recesses while he has been working nonstop on the economy and war and Osama bin Laden.

Even while ratcheting up his rhetoric against the GOP, Obama also engaged in a bit of Clintonian triangulation. “Democrats have to accept some painful spending cuts that hurt some of our constituents,” he cautioned, even if it causes his liberal base to “give me a hard time.” The country “will have to tackle entitlements”—meaning reductions in Medicare (and possibly Social Security) that his party has been denouncing with its withering attacks on the Paul Ryan voucher plan. Democrats on the Hill won’t want to cede that 2012 issue so easily.

But the little two-step enabled the president to cast himself as requiring adult behavior from both sides. “If everyone else is willing to take on their sacred cows,” he said, the Republicans can’t very well refuse to do a deal while defending tax breaks for Big Oil and corporate jets.

And he hammered home the importance of the August 2 date, saying the impact of even a technical default “will be significant and unpredictable” and that the Treasury can’t pick and choose whether to pay for, say, Social Security checks or other expenses. And the market reaction could mean higher interest rates for everyone.

One made-for-TV sound bite that is likely to be replayed is Obama’s reference to Sasha and Malia finishing their homework a day in advance rather than pulling all-nighters—again, a belittling of congressional leaders for “playing games” with the budget.

Obama’s forceful tone carried over to other issues. He brushed aside a question about whether he should seek congressional approval for the military intervention in Libya, saying Muammar Gaddafi is “one of the worst tyrants in the world” and, with a tone of derision, asking why the War Powers Act has become a “cause célèbre” on Capitol Hill. The only question he sidestepped was on gay marriage, where Obama said he was not going to make news “today.”

The president has done this before: made headlines with a bold burst of rhetoric or soaring speech, only to let the moment pass and defer yet again to squabbling congressional leaders. This time, he has a powerful incentive to keep up the pressure: the very real possibility that in little more than a month America will be unable to pay some of its bills.

Obama pushes GOP on taxes in debt ceiling talks

President Barack Obama called on lawmakers Wednesday to overcome the "selfish" norms of politics and "do their job" in order to strike a deal on raising the federal government's current $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by the start of August.

People shouldn't get "spooked," but "the yellow light (is) flashing," he warned. "This is urgent."

Top economic analysts have warned of potentially catastrophic repercussions if the ceiling is not raised by August 2, including skyrocketing interest rates and a plummeting U.S. dollar.

The president blasted congressional Republicans for refusing to consider raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans as part of any deal. Congress needs to be willing to "take on their sacred cows and do tough things" while moving away from "maximalist positions," he said.

He said Congress should cancel upcoming summer vacations if a deal isn't struck by the end of the week.

"I want everybody to understand that this is a jobs issue. This is not an abstraction," he said. "If the United States government, for the first time, cannot pay its bills -- if it defaults -- then the consequences for the U.S. economy will be significant and unpredictable. And that is not a good thing."

Obama made his remarks during a wide-ranging news conference covering the state of the economy, the wars in Afghanistan and Libya, and hot-button social issues such as same-sex marriage. It came at a time of rising questions over Obama's ability to maintain control of the political narrative and boost public confidence in his stewardship in the run-up to next year's presidential election.

GOP leaders have shown no signs of yielding in their opposition to higher taxes as part of any grand bargain with the White House. Recent bipartisan talks led by Vice President Joe Biden collapsed over the tax disagreement.

"The president is sorely mistaken if he believes a bill to raise the debt ceiling and raise taxes would pass the (Republican-controlled) House," Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said after Obama's news conference.

"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 added. "The longer the president denies these realities, the more difficult he makes this process."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, insisted earlier in the day that Republicans will "refuse to let the taxpayers take the hit when it comes to reducing the debt."

The debate is "about holding Washington accountable for a change," McConnell said. "It's about refusing to subsidize the Democrats' irresponsible spending habits another day."

For his part, the president ripped Republicans for protecting "millionaires and billionaires," oil companies, hedge fund managers, and owners of corporate jets.

The wealthy, he said, can afford to pay higher taxes.

"You can still ride on your corporate jet. You're just going to pay a little more," Obama said.

At the same time, the president pushed Congress to act on a series of pending measures to help strengthen the economy faster, including easing the ability of entrepreneurs to get patents, providing loans to private companies for infrastructure development, and approving free trade agreements.

Obama noted that America's economy has gone through a series of major structural changes.

As a result, the country's economic problems are "not going to be solved overnight," he stressed.

Turning his attention overseas, Obama dismissed criticism that his administration failed to obtain clear congressional approval before committing U.S. military forces to the NATO-led campaign in Libya.

Some representatives and senators on both sides of the aisle argue the White House has violated the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which gives a president 60 days to get congressional approval for sending U.S. forces to war, followed by a 30-day extension to end hostilities.

The combined 90-day period ended last week.

Obama insisted that the War Powers Resolution does not apply in the case of Libya.

The law was intended to avoid a repeat of a Vietnam-style war, he said. In contrast, "this operation is limited in time and in scope."

"We have engaged in a limited operation to help a lot of people against one of the worst tyrants in the world," the president said. "A lot of this fuss" over the U.S. intervention in Libya "is politics."

It's become a "cause celebre for some folks in Congress," he asserted.

"We have done exactly what I said we would do" in Libya, Obama argued. America's allies "have carried a big load when it comes to these NATO operations" while "we've sent reams of information" to Capitol Hill.

"The noose is tightening" around longtime Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, he asserted.

The president reiterated the administration's stance that Gadhafi's removal from power is "the primary way that we can assure that the overall mission in Libya of people being protected" is successful.

Obama's claims regarding the War Powers Resolution echoed those made Tuesday by Harold Koh, a top State Department legal adviser, who argued before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the law does not apply to American forces in Libya because the U.S. mission is limited in terms of its scope, means, exposure of forces, and chances of escalation.

In short, administration officials believe the U.S. role in Libya does not meet the law's definition of hostilities.

Obama, however, overruled contrary legal opinions put forward by both the Pentagon and the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in declining to seek congressional authorization, according to the New York Times.

On Afghanistan, Obama insisted that the United States and its allies "can be successful in our mission, which is narrowly drawn."

The president, who recently announced the withdrawal of 33,000 American "surge" troops by next summer, declined to use the word "victory" in reference to winding down the Afghan military mission. He instead stressed the success of U.S. forces in dismantling al Qaeda and preparing Afghan forces to assume responsibility for the country's security.

Noting this week's bombing of Kabul's Inter-Continental Hotel, he warned that the violence in Afghanistan will likely continue for "some time."

Turning to the debate over same-sex marriage, Obama refused to provide new specifics about his personal opinion. A supporter of civil unions, he has indicated in the past that his views on the matter are "evolving."

He noted, however, that his administration has stopped defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act against legal challenges.

Obama argued it is up to states to determine if they will legalize same-sex marriage, as New York recently did.

"The president, I've discovered since I've been in office, can't dictate precisely how this process moves," the president said.

The nation is "moving toward greater equality," Obama added. "I think that's a good thing."

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Sources: CNN, Daily Beast, Google Maps

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