With most of Washington — and the nation — focused on Monday’s mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, President Obama went ahead with a blistering political speech and offered a preview of bitter battles with Republicans this fall over the nation’s debt ceiling and federal budget.
The address, delivered in the White House South Court Auditorium, was described as an opportunity for the president to tout the successes of the past several years and to highlight the work his administration has done to pull the U.S. out of the financial devastation wrought by five years ago by the 2008 economic crisis.
Mr. Obama mostly used the previously scheduled address to unload on House Republicans, target divisions between party leadership and members who identify with the tea party, and broadly paint the GOP as willing to sell out the middle class in favor of scoring cheap political points.
“I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it can’t get 100 percent of what it wants. That’s never happened before. But that’s what’s happening right now,” the president said. “You have some Republicans in the House of Representatives who are promising to shut down the government at the end of this month if they can’t shut down the Affordable Care Act. If that scheme doesn’t work, some have suggested they won’t pay the very bills Congress has already run up, which would cause America to default on its debt for the first time in our history.”
The remarks come as the administration and Congress seek agreement on how to fund the government for fiscal 2014 and raise the nation’s debt ceiling and avoid a looming default.
This fiscal year ends Sept. 30, and analysts believe the federal government will reach its statutory debt limit in late October or early November.
Mr. Obama’s pointed remarks indicate that, amid numerous other problems including Syria, a stalled immigration-reform package and, perhaps, a renewed push to crack down on gun violence, he’s still ready and willing to engage in a knock-down, drag-out fight with House Republicans on federal spending and the debt limit.
Republicans quickly shot back Monday, pouring cold water on the president’s purported record of economic success and arguing a dramatically different approach is needed.
“The president’s policies are hurting American workers. Today, 7.3 percent of Americans qualify as unemployed, while millions more have taken part-time work because that is all they can find,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said the administration has failed to address the nation’s troubled economy by not fully tackling housing finance reform.
“It looks like the White House is putting more effort into convincing Americans they’ve solved the financial crisis than into actually solving the cause of the crisis,” he said in a statement.
Other Republicans continue to hammer the president over his signature health care reform law. A number of GOP lawmakers have proposed repealing or defunding Obamacare through the budget process.
Party leaders, however, have rejected the idea of forcing a government shutdown to accomplish that objective.
Some in the GOP are seeking to tie any debt ceiling increase to further spending cuts and deficit reduction. The president said he’s open to those ideas, but stated flatly that he will not negotiate over the debt ceiling, as he did in the previous showdown in the summer of 2011.
Those who wish to risk a default and the damage to the nation’s credit rating, Mr. Obama added, are motivated purely by politics.
“Are some of these folks really so beholden to one extreme wing of their party that they’re willing to tank the entire economy just because they can’t get their way on this issue? Are they really willing to hurt people just to score political points? I hope not,” he said. “But in case there’s any confusion, I will not negotiate over whether America keeps its word and meets its obligations.”