Republicans and conservative groups rebuffed President Obama’s latest attempt to pressure GOP lawmakers to back down from using the debt ceiling as leverage to extract serious, long-term spending cuts from Democrats.
After a White House news conference Monday in which the president called Republican threats to hold the line on the nation’s borrowing “irresponsible,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said he couldn’t think of a better opportunity than the upcoming fight over raising the debt limit to force Democrats to address the deficit.
“The president and his allies need to get serious about spending, and the debt-limit debate is the perfect time for it,” Mr. McConnell said. “I do know that the most important issue confronting the future of our country is our deficit and debt. So we are hoping for a new seriousness on the part of the president with regard to the single biggest issue confronting the country, and we look forward to working with him to do something about this huge, huge problem.”
The president said Republican threats to default on the nation’s debts are “absurd” — a game of chicken, he warned, that would send stock markets tumbling and derail any hope of a serious economic recovery this year.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, immediately pushed back by calling the talk more of the same from Mr. Obama.
“The American people deserve better from Washington. We cannot deliver meaningful change and necessary reforms if we refuse to address out-of-control spending,” he said. “Under President Obama, we have seen record-setting deficit spending and trillions added to our nation’s debt. This is a leadership failure.”
Rep. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican and vice presidential nominee last year, oversees the panel.
“The Senate hasn’t passed a budget in nearly four years, and that is inexcusable,” he said.
The Tea Party Patriots, the nation’s largest tea party group, said Mr. Obama has spent four years driving up the deficit and stalling when it comes to spending cuts, forcing Republicans to take drastic action such as threatening to hold the line on raising the debt limit or shut down the government to get Democrats to negotiate on spending.
“It is the president who is holding our economy hostage to his vision of spending more now regardless of the consequences,” said Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots. “It is the president whose deadbeat policies handicap our economy and stunt growth. It is the president and his party who pass deadline after deadline without passing a budget so that the American people can review and analyze it.”
Mr. Obama says his November re-election victory is proof that the public supports his plan for higher taxes on the wealthy and a “balanced” approach to deficit reduction.
“While I am willing to compromise and find common ground on reducing the deficit, America cannot afford another debate over whether it should pay the bill [Congress] already racked up,” he told reporters.
Over the weekend, he also rejected suggestions by some congressional Democrats that he bypass Congress in the debate and unilaterally act to make sure the federal government’s debts are paid.