President Obama said Wednesday that it was "puzzling" that House Republicans had not warmed to his debt deal proposal, repeatedly suggesting that the GOP was placing their personal dislike for him above the interests of the nation.
"At some point there's got to be a recognition on the part of my Republican friends -- take the deal," Obama said at an impromptu press conference that followed his announcement of a gun violence working group led by Vice President Biden.
The president said he "recognized" that cooperating with him on a debt deal could be problematic, but invoked the recent elementary school killings in Newtown, Conn., to urge the GOP toward compromise.
"You know, cooperating with me may make them vulnerable. I recognize that," Obama said. "But, goodness, if this past week has done anything, it should just give us some perspective. If there’s one thing we should have after this week, it should be a sense of perspective about what’s important."
He added that he believed Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbying World 'Ready for Michelle' PACs urge 2020 run News Flash: Trump was never going to lock Clinton up MORE (R-Ohio) "would like to get a deal done" and characterized the differences between the parties as small.
"If you just pull back from the immediate, you know, political battles, if you kind of peel off the partisan war paint, then we should be able to get something done," Obama said.
Republican leadership rejected an offer from the president on Monday that would have included $1.2 trillion in new revenues and $1.22 trillion in spending reductions, according to the White House. The plan would reduce the rate at which Social Security and other federal benefits grew annually, and preserve the Bush-era tax cuts on income less than $400,000.
But Republicans say that the White House is including interest savings in calculating their total spending cuts, and by the GOP's math, only offering $850 billion in spending cuts.
The House on Thursday is expected to vote on Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbying World 'Ready for Michelle' PACs urge 2020 run News Flash: Trump was never going to lock Clinton up MORE's proposal, which would extend tax rates on annual income below $1 million, while allowing rates above that threshold to rise. The White House said Wednesday that Obama would veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.
Obama defended his plan as "a balanced package by any definition."
"We have put forward real cuts in spending that are hard to do in every category," Obama said. "And by any measure, by any traditional calculation, by the measures that Republicans themselves have used in the past, this would be a as large a piece of deficit reduction as we’ve seen in the last 20 years."
He criticized the GOP proposal, saying Boehner's "Plan B" "defies logic."
"They're thinking about voting for raising taxes, at least on folks over a million, which they say they don’t want to do, but they’re going to reject spending cuts that they say they do want to do," Obama said. "That defies logic. There’s no explanation for that."
Still, Obama said he remained optimistic that a deal could get done, and pledged to "reach out to all the leaders involved over the next couple of days and find out what is it that’s holding this thing up."
Obama also reacted to criticism from many on the left who have suggested that his proposal to modify Social Security benefits and only raise taxes on those making more than $400,000 — rather than $250,000 — represented a violation of his campaign platform.
On Wednesday, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka called on Obama to “get tough” and take Social Security benefit cuts off the table.
Obama argued that his proposal wouldn't violate his central pledge to not “hurt vulnerable families only to pay for a tax cut for somebody like me.”
“What I’ve said is that in order to arrive at a compromise, I am prepared to do some very tough things, some things that some Democrats don’t want to see and probably there are a few Republicans who don’t want to see either,” Obama said.
Obama did not directly address a question about whether he would be willing to concede more ground from the offer he made on Monday, a possible signal that there could remain some wiggle room to win over conservatives.
“What separates us is probably a few hundred billion dollars,” Obama said. “The idea that we would put our economy at risk because you can’t bridge that cap doesn’t make a lot of sense.”