President Obama took his debt limit argument to the American public Monday evening in a nationally televised speech in which he explained why it is so critical that the debt ceiling be raised before the Aug. 2 deadline. The president began his speech by explaining the difference between his approach and the one being promoted by House Republicans.
“The first approach says, let’s live within our means by making serious, historic cuts in government spending. Let’s cut domestic spending to the lowest level it’s been since Dwight Eisenhower was president. Let’s cut defense spending at the Pentagon by hundreds of billions of dollars,” he said. “Let’s cut out the waste and fraud in health care programs like Medicare--and at the same time, let’s make modest adjustments so that Medicare is still there for future generations. Finally, let’s ask the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to give up some of their tax breaks and special deductions.”
Obama added that the balanced approach is bipartisan, even though many in his own party aren’t happy with the painful cuts it includes, and that it was once supported with House Speaker John Boehner. He also said that many Republicans in the Senate support his approach.
The White House is backing a proposal by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that would raise the debt limit through 2012 and make $2.7 trillion in spending cuts but also doesn’t include any tax revenues. Obama had previously pushed for a “grand bargain” that would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years through domestic and defense spending cuts, adjust entitlement programs, close tax loopholes and raise taxes on the nation’s top earners.
“But the new approach that Speaker Boehner unveiled today, which would temporarily extend the debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts, would force us to once again face the threat of default just six months from now. In other words, it doesn’t solve the problem,” Obama said, adding that it could result in a credit downgrade and higher interest rates for Americans.
In addition, he said, while Americans voted for divided government, “they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government.” He asked voters to make their voices heard and urge their members of Congress to choose his balanced approach.
“I realize that a lot of the new members of Congress and I don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But we were each elected by some of the same Americans for some of the same reasons. Yes, many want government to start living within its means. And many are fed up with a system in which the deck seems stacked against middle-class Americans in favor of the wealthiest few. But do you know what people are fed up with most of all?” Obama said. “They’re fed up with a town where compromise has become a dirty word. They work all day long, many of them scraping by, just to put food on the table. And when these Americans come home at night, bone-tired, and turn on the news, all they see is the same partisan three-ring circus here in Washington. They see leaders who can’t seem to come together and do what it takes to make life just a little bit better for ordinary Americans. They are offended by that. And they should be.”
In his response to Obama’s address to the nation on raising the federal debt ceiling, House Speaker John Boehner said that Congress will not give the White House a blank check to continue Washington’s spending binge.
“Here’s what we got for that spending binge: a massive health care bill that most Americans never asked for. A ‘stimulus’ bill that was more effective in producing material for late-night comedians than it was in producing jobs. And a national debt that has gotten so out of hand it has sparked a crisis without precedent in my lifetime or yours,” the speaker said.
Boehner said that he has given the effort to raise the debt ceiling his “all” and continued to promote a “Cut, Cap and Balance” bill that he said the House passed with bipartisan support and proved that there is no stalemate in Congress. He was being somewhat disingenious, however, as only five or six Democrats voted for the legislation and some Republicans voted against it.
“And this week, while the Senate is struggling to pass a bill filled with phony accounting and Washington gimmicks, we will pass another bill--one that was developed with the support of the bipartisan leadership of the U.S. Senate,” Boehner said. “Obviously, I expect that bill can and will pass the Senate, and be sent to the president for his signature. If the president signs it, the ‘crisis’ atmosphere he has created will simply disappear.”
The conventional wisdom among political observers is that Boehner is being held hostage by the Tea Party wing of the House, which has been very resistant to raising the debt limit without draconian cuts to the federal budget.
“The Republican Party is very divided and in the end that may very well cause them a lot of problems in the future because the country is more in the center," said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland). "The Tea Partiers are to the right and even Republicans who would tend to be moderate are fearful of somebody who’s farther right running against them and that’s a problem.”
(Photo: AP Photo/Jim Watson, Pool)
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