President Obama Discusses Debt Ceiling Talks

With time running out to raise the nation's debt ceiling, President Obama hosted another bargaining session with leaders of Congress Monday. He's trying to persuade both Republicans and Democrats to compromise on a plan to shave trillions of dollars from the federal deficit. "I'm prepared to take on significant heat from my party to get something done. And I expect the other side should be willing to do the same thing, if they mean what they say: that this is important," he said.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS: And I'm Michele Norris.

Another bargaining session and more news conferences, this is the story of the debt ceiling debate. Again, today, with time running out, President Obama hosted congressional leaders at the White House, and he held a press conference to make his position clear.

President BARACK OBAMA: I'm prepared to take on significant heat from my party to get something done. And I expect the other side should be willing to do the same thing if they mean what they say, that this is important.

NORRIS: And we have more on what the president and Republican leaders had to say from NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY: In a White House news conference before this afternoon's bargaining session, President Obama stressed the opportunity for lawmakers to do something meaningful about the country's long-term debt. He's backing a combination of spending cuts, changes to Medicare and Social Security, and increased tax revenue that would reduce the deficit by some $4 trillion over the next decade.

Pres. OBAMA: I continue to push congressional leaders for the largest possible deal. And there's going to be resistance.

HORSLEY: Indeed, hardliners from both parties object to the president's plan. Democrats don't like touching popular entitlement programs, and Republicans protest the tax hikes. But Mr. Obama seemed to have an ally in Republican House Speaker John Boehner until this weekend, when Boehner abruptly backed away from the deal-making.

At the Capitol today, Boehner tried to blame Democrats for not giving more ground on Medicare and Social Security.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; Speaker of the House): I want to do what I think is in the best interest of the country. But it takes two to tango, and they're not there yet.

HORSLEY: But Democrats say when it comes to bipartisan deficit-cutting efforts, it's Republicans who stop the dance music over and over again: on the president's fiscal commission and the Senate's Gang of Six and, most recently, in budget talks led by Vice President Biden. Each of those efforts stalled over GOP resistance to higher taxes. In the Republican-led House of Representatives, Boehner says that resistance remains rock-solid.

Rep. BOEHNER: The American people will not accept - and the House cannot pass - a bill that raises taxes on job creators.

HORSLEY: But President Obama notes any deal to cut the deficit and raise the debt ceiling will also require Democratic votes. And Democrats are not likely to go along with cuts to their favorite programs, including Medicare and Social Security, unless Republicans are also willing to compromise on taxes.

Pres. OBAMA: I do not see a path to a deal if they don't budge - period. I mean, if the basic proposition is it's my way or the highway, then we're probably not going to get something done because we've got divided government.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama stressed that without more tax revenue, the government would have to cut more deeply into programs that help children, the elderly and the poor. Proposed taxes would primarily target the wealthiest Americans and would not take effect before 2013, to give the fragile economy another year and a half to recover. Republicans pounced on that, saying the president is simply delaying a tax hike until after next year's election.

Adding urgency to these deficit talks is the need to raise the country's debt limit by August 2nd, just three weeks from now, or else the government will not have the money it needs to pay its bills. Congressional leaders have promised to head off a government default. But Mr. Obama says a temporary stopgap measure is not good enough.

Pres. OBAMA: I will not sign a 30-day or a 60-day or a 90-day extension. That is just not an acceptable approach.

HORSLEY: The president does not want to have to repeat this exercise in a matter of months. And he says the tough choices to cut spending and raise taxes will not get any easier the closer we get to the 2012 elections.

Pres. OBAMA: It's going to get harder. So we might as well do it now. Pull off the Band-Aid. Eat our peas.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama says he and lawmakers will continue to meet every day this week and into the weekend if that's what it takes to make a deal.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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