- The Washington Times - Monday, July 25, 2011

Seeking to reclaim leadership on debt talks, President Obama on Monday night made a strenuous, last-minute pitch that tax increases be included in any deal, but Republicans’ top negotiator, House Speaker John A. Boehner, said the president himself is now the chief roadblock to reaching an agreement.

In a hastily-arranged prime-time speech from the White House’s East Room, Mr. Obama tried to rally voters to demand Republicans compromise, warning of “sparking a deep economic crisis” if the GOP doesn’t cave.

“The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government,” the president said in a hastily arranged prime-time speech from the White House’s East Room. “So I’m asking you all to make your voice heard. If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your Member of Congress know. If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message.”

Mr. Obama’s 15-minute speech — in which he used the word “compromise” six times — came three days after Mr. Boehner said he was walking away from talks with the president, and would instead negotiate directly with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

Those talks have produced two different plans: House Republicans’ proposal to increase the debt ceiling by $1 trillion, cut discretionary spending by $1.2 trillion and arrange a committee to propose up to $1.8 trillion in future deficit reduction; and Senate Democrats’ plan to raise the debt limit by $2.7 trillion, accompanied by an equal amount of reductions in future spending.

Replying to Mr. Obama, Mr. Boehner, in his own address carried by the country’s major television networks, said the president is the chief obstacle.

“You see, there is no stalemate in Congress. The House has passed a bill to raise the debt limit with bipartisan support. And this week, while the Senate is struggling to pass a bill filled with phony accounting and Washington gimmicks, we will pass another bill — one that was developed with the support of the bipartisan leadership of the U.S. Senate,” Mr. Boehner said.

He said he expects the bill will also pass the Senate and then land on Mr. Obama’s desk, where the president will have to decide whether to make good on a threat he has made to veto the GOP’s approach.

“If the president signs it, the ‘crisis’ atmosphere he has created will simply disappear. The debt limit will be raised. Spending will be cut by more than one trillion dollars, and a serious, bipartisan committee of the Congress will begin the hard but necessary work of dealing with the tough challenges our nation faces,” Mr. Boehner said

He said the GOP’s message to Mr. Obama’s calls for continued spending and debt has been “Not so fast.”

All sides are racing an Aug. 2 deadline, which is when the Treasury Department says the government will bump up against its $14.29 trillion borrowing limit. If the ceiling is breached, the Obama administration would have to default on some of the government’s promises.

Mr. Obama, who has yet to offer a public plan of his own, told viewers Monday he “won’t bore you with the details of every plan or proposal.” Instead, he said both parties share the same broad goals, but said Republicans are blocking progress by defending lower taxes and spending cuts.

The president said he wants to see tax increases, which he said is part of a “balanced” approach. Barring that, he said he is backing Senate Democrats’ plan.

“We all want a government that lives within its means, but there are still things we need to pay for as a country — things like new roads and bridges; weather satellites and food inspection; services to veterans and medical research,” he said.

Mr. Obama began his speech by blaming President Bush’s tenure for the ballooning debt, saying that paying for two wars and the Medicare prescription drug benefit drained money, tax cuts left the treasury dry and a bum economy hurt even more.

But he praised Mr. Boehner for working with him, while blaming other House Republicans — particularly those elected on the strength of tea party voters last year — for the stalemate.

Seeking to counter those Republicans, Mr. Obama pointed to President Reagan, who saw the debt limit increase 18 times during his presidency.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• Kara Rowland can be reached at krowland@washingtontimes.com.

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