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."
Mr. Cantor also criticized the White House for its failure to meet the deadline for delivering its budget for the upcoming fiscal year to Congress.
The White House informed the House Budget Committee late last week that it would not comply with a Feb. 4 deadline to send its budget to Congress, as required by law.
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.
The Treasury, which has been juggling federal finances since the nation hit the debt limit of $16.4 trillion last month, has informed the president and Congress that it will run out of short-term fixes within weeks.
Some Republicans, frustrated with the "fiscal cliff" deal that Mr. McConnell negotiated with Vice President Joseph R. Biden this month, are starting to embrace the idea of shutting down the government to force Mr. Obama's hand when it comes to cutting spending.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington Republican who helms the GOP conference, told Politico that she thinks House Republicans could very well shut down the government to extract spending cuts from Democrats. The shutdown would be imposed if Congress doesn't pass another spending bill to fund the government's general operations by March 27.
"We always talk about whether or not we're going to kick the can down the road," she said. "I think the mood is that we've come to the end of the road."
The White House, citing the impact of the last stalemate over the borrowing limit, has said repeatedly that there will be no negotiations with Republicans over raising the debt ceiling. After months of brinkmanship over the debt limit, the credit ratings firm Standard & Poor's in 2011 downgraded U.S. debt for the first time in 70 years.
The government hit the debt ceiling Dec. 31, but the Treasury started taking emergency measures to allow it to continue to issue debt and prevent any type of default for just a short window of time.
The Bipartisan Policy Center says the Treasury will run out of options on meeting the government's bills between Feb. 15 and March 1.
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Susan Crabtree is an award-winning investigative reporter with more than 15 years of reporting experience in Washington, D.C. Her reporting about bribery, corruption and conflict-of-interest issues on Capitol Hill has led to several FBI and ethics investigations, as well as consequences for members within their caucuses and at the ballot box. Susan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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