Obama Pressures Lawmakers To OK Deficit Deal

President Obama held his second news conference in five days in hopes of pressuring lawmakers to OK a large-scale deficit-cutting deal. But Republican members of Congress aren't budging on the issue of taxes.

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

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

After a week of daily meetings, President Obama and Congressional leaders took a break from talking face to face today. Instead, they held dueling news conferences at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Mr. Obama said lawmakers have a unique opportunity to do something big about the nation's long term deficits.

But as NPR's Scott Horsley reports, the odds of such a breakthrough appear to be getting smaller.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama says the country is really facing two debt problems. The more urgent one is a manufactured crisis. Congress has until August 2nd to raise its self-imposed debt ceiling or the federal government won't be able to borrow the money it needs to pay its bills. One way or another, lawmakers probably will boost the government's credit limit, but Mr. Obama said, in a White House news conference today, that won't address the larger concern with the country's long term deficits.

President BARACK OBAMA: I'm glad that congressional leaders don't want to default, but I think the American people expect more than that. They expect that we actually solve this problem, we get our fiscal house in order.

HORSLEY: The president, who once tried to keep the two problems separate, is now trying to use the debt ceiling debate to push a bigger fiscal fix, one that would shave some $4 trillion off the deficit over the next 10 years. Mr. Obama insists that would not require radical changes in the size or shape of government, but he is calling for modest adjustments to popular programs like Medicare and Social Security, as well as increased tax revenues beginning in 2013.

President OBAMA: This is not an issue of salesmanship to the American people. The American people are sold.

HORSLEY: The president points to a pair of public opinion surveys this week, from Gallup and Quinnipiac University, which found large majorities of voters, including Republicans, who want to address the deficit through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

President OBAMA: This is not a matter of the American people knowing what the right thing to do is, this is a matter of Congress doing the right thing and reflecting the will of the American people. And if we do that, we will have solved this problem.

HORSLEY: But after five straight days of White House meetings, Republicans in Congress have shown no movement when it comes to taxes. House Speaker John Boehner held his own news conference today at the Capitol.

Speaker JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): Our stand on the debt limit has been clear. There can be no tax hikes because tax hikes destroy jobs.

HORSLEY: House Republicans got a briefing on the dire consequences if the debt ceiling is not raised in the next two and a half weeks, but Boehner seems in no hurry to force a vote. He plans to devote part of next week to a bill that would sharply limit future government spending.

Speaker BOEHNER: We need real spending cuts and real spending cuts that will exceed the amount of increase in the debt limit. And we need real reforms to restrain the growth of spending in future years, like (unintelligible) jobs and like a real balanced budget amendment.

HORSLEY: The largely symbolic measure could provide political cover for lawmakers who later have to act on the debt ceiling. Mr. Obama dismissed the coming House action as so much political posturing.

President OBAMA: We don't need a constitutional amendment to do our jobs. The Constitution already tells us to do our jobs.

HORSLEY: The president has said repeatedly this week he's willing to take heat from his own political party for cuts to Medicare or Social Security. Mr. Obama clearly believes independent voters will reward his willingness to compromise and possibly punish those lawmakers who follow a different course.

President OBAMA: I think increasingly the American people are going to say to themselves, you know what, if a party or a politician is constantly taking the position my way or the highway, constantly being locked into, you know, ideologically rigid positions, that, you know, we're going to remember at the polls.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama's told lawmakers to come up with their own plan that can pass both houses and get back to him.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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