WASHINGTON-President Obama, who has largely sat on the sidelines the last few days as congressional leaders sought a solution to raising the debt ceiling, tried to reenter the fray Monday night.
The president used his bully pulpit in a primetime address, cutting into shows like ABC's The Bachelorette, to convince Americans that he wants a middle-of-the-road solution to the national debt crisis while urging congressional Republicans to compromise. Besides this speech, Obama has held four press conferences in the last month, a stratospheric number for this president, underscoring the importance he places on winning the debt ceiling debate before the public.
"Everything but a plan," tweeted Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee.
The president told viewers, "I won't bore you with every plan or proposal," but pointed out that the $4 trillion plan he was working on with House Speaker John Boehner fell apart because "a significant number of Republicans in Congress are insisting on a cuts-only approach."
Boehner, in a dueling speech following the president, said, "I gave it my all" in the negotiations but that Obama changed his demands as they were nearing an agreement: "Unfortunately the president would not take 'yes' for an answer."
The nation will default on its obligations Aug. 2 without a solution-a scenario both parties have said is unacceptable.
Nothing new emerged from the president's 15-minute speech other than a portrait of political point scoring. Obama reiterated his position that deficit reduction should come in part through revenues from those making more than $250,000 a year, corporate jet owners, oil companies, and the like.
Three sentences into the speech, the president began criticizing spending from a decade ago-the Bush tax cuts, prescription drug benefits, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars-while he described his administration's spending as "emergency steps." But again taking the centrist tone, he said, "Because neither party is blameless for the decisions that led to this problem, both parties have a responsibility to solve it." He quoted Ronald Reagan, saying, "Would you rather reduce deficits and interest rates by raising revenue from those who are not now paying their fair share, or would you rather accept larger budget deficits, higher interest rates, and higher unemployment?"
But Republicans appear to have already won the battle over increasing revenues. The only Democratic plan on the table now is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's proposal that would cut spending by $2.7 trillion without revenue increases. Republicans initially turned up their noses at the plan, saying it relies on "gimmickry." Lawmakers are more wary after the spending bill earlier this year cut hundreds of billions less than advertised. But Reid's plan demonstrated that Democrats recognize that tax increases won't get through this Congress.
This week, days after talks with the president fell apart again, Boehner issued his own solution to the crisis, suggesting a one-year raise in the debt ceiling, $1.2 trillion in cuts, and a bipartisan committee to find cuts for the next debt ceiling vote, which would bring the debate up again before the 2012 election. Boehner believes his proposal will find bipartisan support, but the president rejected it, saying a short-term solution would not restore faith in America's credit.
"If the president signs it, the crisis atmosphere he has created will simply disappear," Boehner said. "This debate isn't about President Obama and House Republicans. It isn't about Congress and the White House. It's about what's standing between the American people and the future we seek for ourselves and our families."
The president said those who stick to "rigid ideology" in history "are not the Americans we remember." But if anything, both sides showed the country that they remain firmly committed to their ideologies.