Obama Challenges GOP Lawmakers In Budget Debate

President Obama took questions from reporters Wednesday at his first news conference since March. He called out congressional Republicans for their refusal to consider any revenue increases as part of a budget deal. Mister Obama also took questions regarding his views on same-sex marriage.

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For weeks now, congressional Republicans have set the agenda in the debate over raising the debt ceiling and cutting the deficit. Well, today, President Obama made his case to the American people in a White House news conference. He chided Republican lawmakers for lecturing Democrats about austerity while supporting tax breaks for oil companies and corporate jet owners.

We'll hear reaction from some of those Republicans in just a moment. First, here's NPR's Scott Horsley with more on the president's message today.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama says he's already shown a willingness to make difficult spending cuts. Now, he argues, it's the Republicans' turn to give ground and raise taxes. He highlighted some unpopular targets for tax increases, including oil companies, hedge fund owners and those who travel in corporate jets.

President BARACK OBAMA: If everybody else is willing to take on their sacred cows and do tough things in order to achieve the goal of real deficit reduction, then I think it would be hard for the Republicans to stand there and say that the tax break for corporate jets is sufficiently important that we're not willing to come to the table and get a deal done.

HORSLEY: Adding urgency to this squabble is the need to raise the federal debt ceiling by August 2nd or risk a government default. The yellow warning light is flashing, Mr. Obama said. He doesn't want that light to turn red.

President OBAMA: This is a jobs issue. This is not an abstraction. 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.

HORSLEY: Lawmakers say they want to see significant progress on deficit reduction before they'll vote to raise the debt ceiling. Mr. Obama argues one of the best ways to cut the deficit is by revving up the economy. He encouraged lawmakers to take steps now to boost economic growth, even if those steps worsen the deficit in the short run.

President OBAMA: I think that it makes perfect sense for us to take a look at, can we extend the payroll tax, for example, an additional year.

HORSLEY: While the news conference was wide-ranging, Mr. Obama ducked a question about the legality of U.S. involvement in Libya. The White House argues that America's role in that NATO-led operation does not rise to the level of hostilities under the War Powers Act. That's allowed Mr. Obama to ignore the act's requirement that he seek congressional approval without actually challenging the Vietnam-era law.

President OBAMA: There may be a time in which there was a serious question as to whether or not the War Powers Resolution Act was constitutional. I don't have to get to the question. We have engaged in a limited operation to help a lot of people against one of the worst tyrants in the world.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama renewed his call for Moammar Gadhafi to step aside, saying the Libyan leader is pinned down and that the noose around him is tightening.

The president's hosting a White House reception this evening in honor of gay pride month. He was asked about last week's vote in New York state legalizing same-sex marriage. Mr. Obama has opposed gay marriage in the past, but says the federal government should let the democratic process play out in the states.

President OBAMA: What you saw was the people of New York having a debate, talking through these issues. It was contentious. It was emotional. But ultimately, they made a decision to recognize civil marriages. And I think that's exactly how things should work.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama has also said in the past his own views on same-sex marriage are evolving. Pressed today on how far they've evolved, he said he wasn't going to make any news.

President OBAMA: I'll keep on giving you the same answer until I give you a different one, all right? And that won't be today.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORSLEY: Some gay rights advocates have criticized the president for not getting out in front of the marriage debate, just as some in Congress have accused Mr. Obama of being too standoffish in the budget talks. The president scoffed at the idea he stayed above the deficit fray, pointing to his engagement with lawmakers from both parties.

President OBAMA: Republican senators, Democratic senators, Republican House, Democratic House. I've met with the leaders multiple times. At a certain point, they need to do their job.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama said lawmakers could learn a lesson from his daughters, who usually do their homework a day ahead of time. They're not pulling all-nighters, Mr. Obama said. If you know you've got to do something, just do it.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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