President Obama has made several recent briefing room statements on the debt-reduction talks, but this morning’s Q&A was a little more important than the others. More specifically, the president drew some lines he definitely hadn’t drawn before.
Early on, Obama was asked if he expects Republicans to make concessions on taxes. He replied:
“I do not see a path to a deal if they don’t budge, period. I mean, if the basic proposition is ‘it’s my way or the highway,’ then we’re probably not going to get something done because we’ve got divided government. We’ve got Democrats controlling the Senate; we probably are going to need Democratic votes in the House for any package that could possibly pass.
“And so if, in fact, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are sincere — and I believe they are — that they don’t want to see the U.S. government default, then they’re going to have to compromise just like Democrats are going to have to compromise; just like I have shown myself willing to compromise.”
Later in the press conference, the president added, “I do not want, and I will not accept, a deal in which [the wealthiest taxpayers are] asked to do nothing.”
This was, as near as I can tell, the first time Obama has suggested that revenues are a prerequisite to any agreement. For Republicans who are committed to making no concessions whatsoever, the president’s willingness to draw a line in the sand, demanding that they compromise, was probably not welcome news.
What’s more, he ruled out a short-term extension, saying he would not sign one.
Obama went on to knock down the claim that he wants to increase revenue right away: “I want to be crystal clear — nobody has talked about increasing taxes now. Nobody has talked about increases –increasing taxes next year…. We’re talking about potentially 2013 and the out-years. In fact, the only proposition that’s out there about raising taxes next year would be if we don’t renew the payroll tax cut that we passed in December, and I’m in favor of renewing it for next year as well. But there have been some Republicans who said we may not renew it.”
It was also at least somewhat reassuring to hear the president reject one of the key Republican talking points: “I am not somebody who believes that just because we solve the deficit and debt problems short term, medium term, or long term, that that automatically solves the unemployment problem.” Indeed, thanks to a very good question from Sam Stein, Obama spoke at some length about the benefits of the Recovery Act, and the focus on jobs.
Indeed, the president said he wants to resolve the debt issue so that policymakers can take the next step: “[W]ith some firm footing, with a solid fiscal situation, we will then be in a position to make the kind of investments that I think are going to be necessary to win the future.”
The president also tried to put GOP leaders on the spot: “I’ve been hearing from my Republican friends for quite some time that it is a moral imperative for us to tackle our debt and our deficits in a serious way. I’ve been hearing from them that this is one of the things that’s creating uncertainty and holding back investment on the part of the business community. And so what I’ve said to them is, ‘Let’s go.’”
As for Social Security, Obama said any changes would be applied to the system’s trust fund, not to deficit reduction. He reminded us that Social Security “is not the source of our deficit problems.”