President Obama wasted little time placing the blame for the failure of the super committee at the feet of Republicans and staking out the terms of the debate he would like to see carry him through next year’s campaign. Less than an hour after the special select committee conceded failure, the president let it be known that he will not give up his insistence on a “balanced” approach that must include higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
It is an approach that the White House believes puts the president on the side of a majority of Americans and gives him a political advantage over a Republican nominee saddled with campaign promises to oppose even the smallest rise in taxes.
In his statement in the White House briefing room, the president also ratcheted up the pressure on Republicans horrified at the deep cuts in military spending that are part of the automatic cuts triggered by the super committee failure. “Already some in Congress are trying to undo these automatic spending cuts,” he said. “My message to them is simple: No. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending.”
By brandishing an explicit veto threat – something he rarely has done – the president said he is telling Congress that “there will be no easy off-ramps on this one.” He added: “We need to keep the pressure up to compromise, not the turn off the pressure.”
There is some wiggle room in the details of that veto threat, though. He did not say that he would veto legislation that achieves the target level of $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction but spares the Pentagon from the deepest cuts.
As was the case in the wake of the exceedingly messy fight over raising the debt ceiling in August, this latest and blatant example of government dysfunction almost certainly will sour the public on both sides in this dispute. Failure of the super committee will test just how low approval ratings can go for both Congress and the president.
And there is little question that the president’s credibility will suffer in Europe with allies he has been trying to pressure to take bolder action on their own debt crises.
But the president is gambling that he can make the Republicans and Congress emerge as the villains. In his statement, he contended that he has put forth a plan that could achieve the needed savings but also would raise some taxes. He does not intend to move away from that approach. And he made clear that Congress has the power to avoid the mandatory cuts being described by both sides as “draconian.”
“The only way these spending cuts will not take place is if Congress gets back to work and agrees on a balanced plan to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion,” he said. That, he said, is “the job they promised to do.” With the cuts not starting until 2013, he noted that Congress has a year “to figure it out.” Nothing, he said, “prevents them from coming up with an agreement in the days ahead.”
He said Democrats are ready to work with Republicans willing to embrace a “balanced” approach. He predicted there will be “some” Republicans “interested in preventing the automatic cuts from taking place, and as I have from the beginning, I stand ready and willing to work with anybody that's ready to engage in that effort to create a balanced plan for deficit reduction.”
According to senior administration officials, the most pressing obstacle they’ll need Congress’s help avoiding is the end of payroll tax cuts. Unlike sequestration, which would go into effect in 2013, payroll tax cuts are set to expire at the end of this year. The White House said failure to extend the cuts would increase taxes by $1,000 on the typical American family. The administration is intent on insuring the cuts get extended before Congress leaves for the holidays, but has yet to determine what “vehicle” would carry the cuts should they fail to pass the legislative process.
The president was particularly biting in his characterization of Republicans and in blaming GOP intransigence for the latest failure. “There are still too many Republicans in Congress who have refused to listen to the voices of reason and compromise that are coming from outside of Washington,” he said. Instead, he charged, they are primarily intent on protecting “tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans, at any cost. Even if it means reducing the deficit with deep cuts to things like education and medical research; even it if means deep cuts in Medicare.”
Despite what he called Democratic compromises, he added, Republicans “simply will not budge from that negotiating position. And so far, that refusal continues to be the main stumbling block that has prevented Congress from reaching an agreement to further reduce our deficit.”
He cast a “balanced” approach as one “where everybody gives a little bit, and everyone does their fair share” and contended it is “supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans. Democrats, Independents, and Republicans.” He added, “It's supported by experts and economists from all across the political spectrum. And to their credit, many Democrats in Congress were willing to put politics aside and commit to reasonable adjustments that would have reduced the cost of Medicare, as long as they were part of a balanced approach.”
Julia Edwards contributed