By Justin Sink - 08/23/13 11:34 AM EDT
President Obama said that progress on a budget deal in Congress is being hampered by Republicans worried about Tea Party primaries or Rush Limbaugh.
Obama said he's had Republican tell him privately they fear they'll be criticized by the conservative commentator or primaried if they agree with the president.
"And I've made this argument to my Republican friends privately, and, by the way, sometimes they say to me privately, 'I agree with you, but I'm worried about a primary from, you know, somebody in the Tea Party back in my district,' or 'I'm worried about what Rush Limbaugh is going to say about me on the radio. And so you got to understand, it's really difficult.'"
The president added that "any time we are not moving forward on things that should be simple, I get frustrated."
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get Congress — and Republicans in Congress in particular — to think less about politics and party and think more about what's good for the country," he said.
The U.S. faces a pair of looming financial deadlines, with high-stakes showdowns over the federal budget and debt ceiling set for this autumn. If Congress is unable to come to an agreement before Sept. 30, the government could shut down for the first time in nearly two decades. But lawmakers will have only nine legislative days to act after returning to Washington from their summer recess.
Shortly after that, lawmakers will again need to strike a deal to raise the debt ceiling. Failure to do so could lead the government to default on its payment obligations, a move financial analysts say is sure to disrupt markets and harm the economy.
In the interview, taped Thursday during the president's college affordability bus tour, Obama said the showdown "is actually not that complicated."
"Congress doesn't have a whole lot of core responsibilities," he said. "One core responsibility is passing a budget, which they have not done yet. The other core responsibility that they've got is to pay the bills that they've already accrued."
"If Congress simply does those two things when they get back, then the economy can continue to recover, and folks out there who are working hard, who are trying to find a job, will have some sense of stability, and we can start thinking about things like college education and some of the big structural changes that we have to continue to make to ensure that we're competitive."
Obama's irritation with the budget negotiations was evident throughout the interview. Asked about having had a "very difficult legislative session" so far this year, Obama quipped that "there hasn't been a legislative session as far as I can tell."
Still, Obama said he knew that he would be held responsible if lawmakers failed to reach a deal.
"Look, ultimately, the buck stops with me," Obama said.
"I can't force these folks to do what's right for the American people because they're independently elected. It's a separate branch of government, and I don't have a vote in Congress," he added later. "But what I sure as heck can do is stay focused on what I know will be good for the American people."