Debt ceiling adversaries take a time out to face the microphones

With roughly a week left for President Obama and congressional leaders to reach an agreement on raising the debt ceiling, both sides took time out to argue their case to the public.

Larry Downing/Reuters
President Obama gestures during a news conference to discuss the progress of negotiations with lawmakers to raise the debt ceiling and find a balanced approach to deficit reduction while in the White House briefing room in Washington on Friday, July 15.

With roughly a week to go for President Obama and congressional leaders to reach agreement on raising the nation’s debt ceiling and prevent a government default, both sides in the debate took time out from negotiations to argue their case to the public.

Friday morning began on Capitol Hill with House Speaker John Boehner (R) telling reporters that congressional Democrats and the president had not been serious in the Republicans' sometimes heated negotiations with the White House.

“Listen, we’re in the fourth quarter here. Time and time again Republicans have offered serious proposals to cut spending and address these issues, and I think it’s time for the Democrats to get serious as well. We asked the president to lead. We asked him to put forward a plan – not a speech, a real plan – and he hasn't,” Mr. Boehner said.

Shortly afterward, Mr. Obama made his second appearance in the White House briefing room in a week to argue his case for not only raising the debt ceiling but coupling the deal with a plan to cut the government’s deficit by up to $4 trillion over 10 years.

"We have a unique opportunity to do something big. We have a chance to stabilize America’s finances for a decade, 15 years, or 20 years, if we are willing to seize the moment,” Obama said to a standing-room-only crowd of reporters and photographers.

Describing a series of deficit-cutting options the White House has proposed, Obama said, “I think about this like a layer cake. You can do the bare minimum” or make additional decisions that add to the savings.

But earlier he also acknowledged "what everybody understands. It is hard to do a big package.”

The reason is simple: Every federal program has its own constituency that does not want to see the program cut.

A key issue in the deficit-cutting process is whether to include new tax revenues or the closing of loopholes. Republicans are dead set against what Speaker Boehner calls – at every opportunity – “job killing tax hikes.”

At his Friday press conference, Obama was asked about a Republican plan to cut the deficit by $2.4 trillion without raising taxes. “If you are trying to get to $2.4 trillion without any revenue, than you are effectively gutting a whole bunch of discretionary domestic spending,” the president said.

At Friday’s briefing, Speaker Boehner said Republicans would seek to tie an increase in the debt ceiling to passage of a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget. Obama’s response was, "we don’t need a constitutional amendment to do our jobs … and to make sure the government is living within its means.”

Neither side expressed great enthusiasm for an alternative plan proposed by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. Under his proposal, Congress would give the president authority to raise the debt limit in three segments totaling up to $2.5 trillion, unless Congress could muster a veto proof majority to block him.

“What may look like something less than optimal today, if we’re unable to get an agreement might look pretty good a few weeks from now,” Boehner told reporters. On Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the McConnell plan was “not the preferred option.”

The White House has said the nation will default on its debt if legislation raising the debt ceiling is not enacted by Aug. 2. The administration also argues that agreement on a debt ceiling deal has to be in place by July 22 to allow time for the formal legislation to be drafted and passed by Congress.

"We are running out of time, that’s the main concern I have,” Obama said. “We have enough time to do a big deal.… In order to do that we’ve got to get started now.”

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