Obama urges lawmakers to seize moment, rejects short-term deal

President Obama on Tuesday rejected calls for a short-term hike to the debt ceiling, saying Congress should not give up on a deal to make significant cuts to the country’s budget deficits. 

Obama, who invited the top two leaders from both parties and both chambers to meet with him Thursday at the White House, challenged lawmakers to seize the moment and reach a grand deal. 

“I believe that right now we’ve got a unique opportunity to do something big, to tackle our deficit in a way that forces our government to live within its means, that puts our economy on a stronger footing for the future and still allows us to invest in that future,” Obama said.

“It’s my hope that everybody’s going to leave their ultimatums at the door, that we’ll all leave our political rhetoric at the door, and that we’re going to do what’s best for our economy and do what’s best for our people.”

The president said this would require a balanced approach in which both sides would have to give ground: Democrats on entitlements and Republicans on taxes. 

“We need to take on spending in domestic programs, in defense programs, in entitlement programs, and we need to take on spending in the tax code — spending on certain tax breaks and deductions for the wealthiest of Americans,” Obama said. “This will require both parties to get out of their comfort zones.”

In shooting down suggestions for a short-term hike that might buy negotiators more time to work out a larger package of cuts, Obama found himself agreeing with House Republicans.

 “I’ve heard reports that there may be some in Congress who want to do just enough to make sure that America avoids defaulting on our debt in the short term but then want to kick the can down the road when it comes to solving the larger problem of our deficit,” Obama said. 

“I don’t share that view.”

 Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) over the weekend said a short-term “mini” deal could be necessary, and on Tuesday he described a short-term increase to the debt ceiling as “more likely than not.”

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and former President Clinton have also suggested that the White House and Congress consider a short-term hike to the debt ceiling. 

House Republicans, however, have pushed back hard against such suggestions. 

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) office said Tuesday that Cantor “has said repeatedly that he doesn’t think a short-term deal could pass the House.” 

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), appearing on the “Laura Ingraham Show,” also spoke negatively of the idea, arguing that it would take pressure off lawmakers to reduce spending. 

“What they want to do is buy as much time as possible until the election with as little damage to big government as possible,” he said, referring to congressional Democrats. “If they can just stall, win in 2012, they can keep us on this path … they just don’t want to take the medicine.”

Ryan said he would consult with Senate GOP leaders on their suggestions for a short-term hike.

Talks to raise the debt ceiling and reduce spending were put on ice two weeks ago after Cantor and other Republicans walked out of talks led by Vice President Biden over Democrats’ insistence that some tax measures be included in a deal. 

On Tuesday, Obama said he and his staff had consulted with lawmakers over the holiday weekend, and that there had been progress. 

Much work needs to be done to reach a deal on raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, but Obama said he is confident an accord can be struck. 

“We’ve made progress, and I believe that greater progress is within sight,” Obama said. “But I don’t want to fool anybody, we still have to work through some real differences.”

The White House wants a deal by July 22, which would give negotiators enough time to draft legislation that could be approved by Aug. 2. That’s when the Treasury Department has warned it will run out of money without more borrowing authority. 

The president was much more subdued in his Tuesday appearance in the White House briefing room than he was last week, when he blasted Republican lawmakers during a fiery press conference.

On Tuesday, he was much more conciliatory, though he did challenge lawmakers to “leave their ultimatums at the door” when they arrive at the White House on Thursday. 

Obama stressed again that raising the debt ceiling “should not come down to the last second.”

In inviting congressional leaders to the White House, Obama sidestepped an invitation from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to meet with Senate Democrats. 

McConnell had separately asked Obama to meet with Senate Republicans, and the president and his team might have decided it was better to meet with leaders in both parties. 

Partisan tensions were at a boiling point last week after Obama challenged Congress to cancel its scheduled recesses until it passes legislation to raise the debt limit.

This story was first posted at 3:30 p.m. and most recently updated at 8:30 p.m.