Obama takes his case to prime time, rips GOP 'cuts-only' proposals

President Obama, composed but visibly disappointed, told the American people Monday night that Washington is in a "stalemate," and that compromise by Republicans is the only path to resolution.

The president, making a prime-time address from the East Room of the White House, explained to the public why he will not sign a short-term deal, saying Americans are "fed up with a town where compromise has become a dirty word."

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"When these Americans come home at night, bone-tired, and turn on the news, all they see is the same partisan three-ring circus here in Washington," Obama said. "They see leaders who can’t seem to come together and do what it takes to make life just a little bit better for ordinary Americans. They are offended by that. And they should be."

After Obama spoke, the target of some of his criticism, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), offered a rebuttal and rebuke to the president. 

Boehner accused Obama of creating the crisis atmosphere surrounding the debt limit, and argued for his own plan, saying he expected it could pass the Senate.

“The president wanted a blank check six months ago, and he wants a blank check today,” Boehner said. “That is not going to happen.”

Boehner on Monday presented a two-step proposal for raising the debt ceiling that would lead to $1.2 trillion in spending cuts and raise the debt ceiling by $1 trillion. It would also set up a 12-member committee of lawmakers to recommend additional deficit cuts to Congress. If that committee's plan is approved, the president would be able to raise the debt ceiling by another $1.6 trillion.

Boehner said he believed his bill could pass the Senate, saying it was based on discussions with leaders in both parties. He also criticized a rival bill Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has prepared as being "filled with phony accounting and Washington gimmicks."

Reid's proposal would cut spending by $2.7 trillion and raise the debt ceiling by an equal amount, putting off another increase to the ceiling until after the election. Reid finds $1 trillion in savings from the end of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and Republicans have criticized these spending cuts as a mirage.

The White House is demanding that Republicans raise the debt ceiling enough to avoid another hike before the 2012 election, arguing that failing to do so would plunge the economy into uncertainty. Boehner and Republicans are accusing Obama of being more worried about his reelection than the economy.

In his address, the president again pushed for Americans to get behind his call for a grand bargain, but he blamed House Republicans for repeatedly blowing up compromises over tax cuts for the rich and trying to do it again in six months after the proposal by Boehner. 

"The only reason this balanced approach isn’t on its way to becoming law right now is because a significant number of Republicans in Congress are insisting on a cuts-only approach — an approach that doesn’t ask the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to contribute anything at all," Obama said.

The current political drama cannot be repeated in six months, Obama said, laying out his predictions for what the House GOP would do with this debate further down the calendar.

"Based on what we’ve seen these past few weeks, we know what to expect six months from now," Obama said. "The House will once again refuse to prevent default unless the rest of us accept their cuts-only approach. Again, they will refuse to ask the wealthiest Americans to give up their tax cuts or deductions. Again, they will demand harsh cuts to programs like Medicare. And once again, the economy will be held captive unless they get their way. 

"That is no way to run the greatest country on Earth. It is a dangerous game we’ve never played before, and we can’t afford to play it now. Not when the jobs and livelihoods of so many families are at stake. We can’t allow the American people to become collateral damage to Washington’s political warfare," Obama said.

The anger and frustration Obama has displayed in recent days was absent Monday night as he calmly explained the origins of the deficit and the concept of the debt ceiling.

But belying the president's calm demeanor was a series of warnings about what will come to pass because "Republican House members have essentially said that the only way they’ll vote to prevent America’s first-ever default is if the rest of us agree to their deep, spending-cuts-only approach."  
 
"If that happens, and we default, we would not have enough money to pay all of our bills — bills that include monthly Social Security checks, veterans’ benefits, and the government contracts we’ve signed with thousands of businesses," Obama said. "For the first time in history, our country’s AAA credit rating would be downgraded, leaving investors around the world to wonder whether the United States is still a good bet. Interest rates would skyrocket on credit cards, mortgages and car loans, which amounts to a huge tax hike on the American people. 

"We would risk sparking a deep economic crisis — this one caused almost entirely by Washington," Obama said.

Obama did not lay out any new plans Monday night, offering instead an endorsement of the latest plan from Reid while at the same time asserting that taxes and entitlement programs will still need to be reformed.

The primary purpose of Obama's speech seemed to be to demonstrate to the American people that he is trying to govern while House Republicans, particularly those in the freshman class, are on the verge of bringing the economy to its knees.

"History is scattered with the stories of those who held fast to rigid ideologies and refused to listen to those who disagreed," Obama said. "But those are not the Americans we remember. We remember the Americans who put country above self, and set personal grievances aside for the greater good."


—Updated at 10:03 p.m.