Obama to use bully pulpit to press lawmakers to back big debt deal

President Obama will hold an 11 a.m. press conference Monday in which he is expected to push congressional leaders to support a $4 trillion deficit-reduction package.

The use of the bully pulpit comes after Obama and congressional leaders failed to make any headway on talks to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and reduce deficits during a Sunday night meeting at the White House. Leaders and the president will meet again at 2 p.m. Monday to continue the White House talks.

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Obama and his party appear set to publicly pressure Republicans to accept a grand bargain in the hopes that the GOP will be blamed if a large accord is not struck.

"If they want to walk away from a historic opportunity to reduce the deficit, that's their choice, but it does expose them in a pretty big way," one Democratic official said after Sunday’s meeting.

The official said Obama is not done pushing for the biggest deal possible, and that congressional leaders "need to see what deal can pass both bodies."

Republicans want to focus the talks on a smaller package of about $2.4 billion based on talks led by Vice President Biden that were suspended last month. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) initially had sought a larger deal before calling Obama on Saturday to say the big package would not be politically feasible.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) previously had signaled resistance to the $4 trillion package during a Thursday meeting between Obama and congressional leaders.

On Sunday, the Speaker reiterated his view that a smaller package based on the work of a group of negotiators led by Biden was "the most viable option at this time for moving forward," according to a House aide.

"The Speaker restated the fundamental principles that must be met for any increase in the debt limit: spending cuts and reforms that are greater than the amount of the increase, restraints on future spending, and no tax hikes," a Boehner aide wrote in an email.

Obama is set to meet again with Boehner, Cantor and other congressional leaders from both parties later on Monday.

Democrats are continuing to press for a $4 trillion package that would cut domestic and defense spending but would also generate new revenues from changes to the tax code and savings from entitlement programs.

Republicans like Cantor and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) oppose such a deal because it would include taxes.

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In Sunday’s 75-minute meeting, Obama pushed for a comprehensive deficit-reduction pact and said the outlines he had discussed did not violate Republican Party principles. He met resistance from Cantor, however, who responded that the president’s proposal “absolutely” violated GOP principles, according to a source familiar with the exchange. Cantor had raised similar concerns at a meeting Thursday at the White House, saying the $4 trillion package Obama wanted included more than $1.3 trillion in tax increases.

In advocating a broad deal, Obama quoted Boehner as telling him that passing a smaller deal based on the Biden talks would be just as difficult as striking a far-reaching accord. The source said Boehner said little during the meeting, with Cantor and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) doing the bulk of the talking for Republicans. Boehner’s office said the Speaker told the group that pursuing a deal based on the Biden-led negotiations was “the most viable option at this time.”

The source said that at one point, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) asked Boehner if he supported the blueprint the Biden group came up with. Boehner replied that he had not endorsed it and would have to look at the details. The majority of the meeting, the source said, focused on the Biden talks, which leaders plan to examine further on Monday.

"The members will meet again tomorrow, though it's disappointing that the president is unable to bring his own party around to the entitlement reform that he put on the table," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell.

"And it's baffling that the president and his party continue to insist on massive tax hikes in the middle of a jobs crisis while refusing to take significant action on spending reductions at a time of record deficits," Stewart said.

The sides have only a few weeks to reach a deal on raising the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling before an Aug. 2 deadline, when the Department of Treasury has warned the U.S. faces a default on its debt.

Pelosi said she is still hopeful for a grand bargain, but she once again ruled out cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits. 

“We came into this weekend with the prospect that we could achieve a grand bargain. We are still hopeful for a large bipartisan agreement, which means more stability for our economy, more growth and jobs, and more deficit reduction over a longer period of time," she said in a statement.

“This package must do no harm to the middle class or to economic growth. It must also protect Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries, and we continue to have serious concerns about shifting billions in Medicaid costs to the states.”

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wrote in an email that he "remains firmly committed to getting the most robust deal possible."

"He stressed the need for an approach that is balanced between spending and revenues, in terms of timing, specificity and dollars. Sen. Reid believes the stakes are too high for Republicans to keep taking the easy way out, and he is committed to meeting every day until we forge a deal, however long that takes."

Pelosi told the group that House Democrats would not support a short-term increase in the debt limit and would back up any presidential veto of a deal that did not authorize federal borrowing past the 2012 elections, the source said.

A Democratic official briefed on the talks said Democrats were "on the same page" and still want "a big deal," but that Republicans refused to budge on taxes.

"That means Democrats continue to put entitlement reform on the table, but Republicans are still refusing to take yes for an answer because of their ideological adherence on revenues," the official said.

In the Biden talks, the two sides had already identified about $1.4 trillion in spending cuts to discretionary, mandatory and healthcare entitlement spending. The GOP appeared open to $100 billion or more in revenue due to user fees and added pension contributions by federal workers.


—Updated July 11 at 10:21 a.m.