- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Frustrated with his former colleagues in Congress, President Obama on Wednesday demanded they stay in town next week to work on debt negotiations — and found unlikely allies in Senate Republicans, who said there were trying to force their chamber to cancel a vacation and remain in session.

After meetings late Wednesday, some lawmakers said they expected that to happen — though the leaders had not made an official announcement.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are increasingly vexed at the pace of progress as Congress tries to head off an Aug. 2 deadline when the government will reach its borrowing limit.

But with top Democrats refusing to consider cuts to entitlement benefits and Republican leaders ruling out tax increases, talks have stalled and the finger-pointing has grown intense, culminating Wednesday with Mr. Obama bristling at congressional members’ calls for him to get more involved.

“They’re in one week, they’re out one week, and then they’re saying, ‘Obama’s got to step in — you need to be here?’ I’ve been here,” he said “You stay here. Let’s get it done.”

The president also put a sharper edge on Democrats’ arguments for tax increases, saying the choice facing Congress has come down to continued tax breaks for oil companies and corporate jets, versus college scholarships, food inspections and health care for the elderly.

“Before we ask our seniors to pay any more for health care, before we cut our children’s education, before we sacrifice our commitment to the research and innovation that will help create more jobs in the economy, I think it’s only fair to ask an oil company or a corporate jet owner that has done so well to give up that tax cut that no other business enjoys,” Mr. Obama said.

He said he is willing to accept slower spending on entitlements, but won’t cut benefits. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who met with Mr. Obama on Monday, has said there isn’t enough time to have a tax debate before the August deadline, and said boosting taxes is unwise now.

“I mean, who proposes tax hikes as a solution to a jobs crisis?” Mr. McConnell said. “Who proposes more spending as a solution to a debt crisis? And who really thinks that if we raise the debt limit now without enacting serious spending cuts and meaningful reforms first it will lead to greater fiscal discipline later?”

The pressure to strike a deal continues to grow. All three debt ratings agencies have warned of consequences if Congress and Mr. Obama can’t make a deal, and on Wednesday the International Monetary Fund added its voice to calls for action, saying that failing to raise the $14.3 trillion borrowing limit could harm the world economy.

Mr. Obama called on Democrats and Republicans to accept pain in any deal, saying they will have to take on their own “sacred cows.”

He said his own two daughters, neither of whom is a teenager yet, are better at meeting deadlines than Congress.

“You know, Malia and Sasha generally finish their homework a day ahead of time,” he said.

With the House and Senate controlled by different parties, the two chambers’ vacation schedules have clashed for three of the past five weeks, leaving little time for lawmakers to be in town and working on a deal.

This week, the House is taking its July Fourth vacation, while the Senate is working. Next week, the Senate is scheduled to be off and the House is back in town.

As for the White House, Mr. Obama tapped Vice President Joseph R. Biden to lead the debt talks, but Mr. Biden took a week out in early June to travel to Italy to meet with leaders there.

A group of 10 Senate Republicans said Wednesday that they will try to keep the Senate in session and force it to debate spending and debt.

“Our country is going bankrupt. We shouldn’t be going home on a holiday,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who was elected in November. He said his voters don’t understand why lawmakers aren’t tackling the big issues.

Even when lawmakers are in town, they aren’t spending much time debating the national debt.

The Republican-controlled House has passed a budget, but the Senate has yet to do so. Democratic leaders in that chamber have instead said they’re awaiting the outcome of the debt talks.

But Republicans said Democrats are trying to avoid taking tough votes and want to strike a deal behind closed doors rather than hash it out in full view of Americans.

Jump-starting that debate, Mr. McConnell began the process of bringing a constitutional balanced budget amendment to the Senate floor. If the chamber is in session next week, it could become the vehicle for discussion.

Mr. Obama said there are steps Congress can take right now to bolster the economy, including passing a bill to reform the patent system, three free-trade agreements and a measure to allow for infrastructure spending.

Some Republicans took exception to Mr. Obama’s chiding of lawmakers’ vacation schedules. Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, said Mr. Obama has played 76 rounds of golf during his presidency, but the budget he submitted in February couldn’t garner a single vote of support when it was put on the Senate floor earlier this year.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Mr. Obama’s attacks were misdirected.

“His administration has been burying our kids and grandkids in new debt and offered no plan to rein in spending. Republicans have been leading and offering solutions to put the brakes on this spending binge. The president has been AWOL from that debate,” Mr. Boehner said.

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