President Obama to Hold News Conference Amid Debt Ceiling Talks

BY Terence Burlij  June 29, 2011 at 8:05 AM EDT

President Obama; Photo by Pete Souza/White House
President Obama held his last news conference in March. Photo by Pete Souza/White House.

Watch President Obama’s News Conference Live at 11:30 a.m. ET

The Morning Line

The last time President Obama held a major news conference, a devastating earthquake and tsunami had just struck Japan, the revolt in Libya was a month old, a budget deal had yet to be hammered out to avert a government shutdown, the unemployment rate was below 9 percent, and the president had yet to declare he was running for re-election.

A lot has changed in three months. The White House and House Republicans eventually came to an agreement on a budget, the jobless rate edged back above 9 percent, the president launched his 2012 re-election campaign, and eight GOP hopefuls announced bids to unseat him next fall.

Some things, however, have remained constant, most notably the continued presence of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.

It will all be on the table Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. ET when the president goes before reporters in the East Room of the White House. (Watch it live here.)

The focal point of Wednesday’s session will likely be the ongoing negotiations over raising the country’s $14.3 trillion debt limit, which is set to be surpassed Aug. 2 unless the president and congressional Republicans can agree on a package with trillions of dollars in savings. Given the size of the numbers involved, it makes the fight earlier this year seem like small fiscal potatoes.

The key questions for the president will come on the issue of revenues:

  • Will he agree to a deal to raise the debt ceiling that does not include tax increases?
  • Will he consider ending tax breaks and closing tax loopholes as alternative revenue sources in lieu of tax increases on wealthy Americans?
  • How confident is he that Republicans will agree to some kind of revenue increase as part of an agreement, given the entrenched public positions staked out by GOP leaders?
  • How would he respond to Republicans opposed to raising the debt ceiling, such as presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, who claim the administration is using “scare tactics” to pressure lawmakers to approve the hike?
  • And, finally, why should Republicans give ground on their anti-tax position if Democrats are unwilling to consider cuts to entitlement programs?

When President Obama addressed the budget debate in March he said, “[W]e’ve got to live within our means, we’ve got to get serious about managing our budget, but we can’t stop investing in our people.”

That “win the future” mantra will almost certainly find its way into Wednesday’s conversation in the context of the current debt battle.

There should also be plenty of questions for the president when it comes to the U.S. role in Libya, which was one of the main topics at the last news conference.

In March, the president was pressed about what steps he was willing to consider to remove Gadhafi from power. With the Libyan leader still residing in his Tripoli compound, the questions now are: Why has it proven so difficult to oust Gadhafi? And, what more can be done to spur that process along?

The president will no doubt be asked about last week’s rebuke of the Libya operation by the House of Representatives and why he believes the War Powers Resolution doesn’t apply to the U.S. involvement there. On that latter point, it will be interesting to see how much the president drifts back into the role of constitutional law professor from his days at the University of Chicago.

Other issues that could potentially crop up include the administration’s decision to release 30 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the debt crisis in Greece, the new head of the International Monetary Fund and his plan to remove the 33,000 “surge” troops from Afghanistan by next summer. (A new Gallup poll shows 72 percent of Americans are in favor of the pullout timetable.)

Of course, something about the 2012 election wouldn’t be out of the question, but with the Republican contest heating up, most of what the president has to say from this point going forward is likely to be framed through the lens of the presidential campaign one way or another.

ANOTHER PROPOSAL

Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., have waded into the swampy mess that is entitlement reform with a proposal to save $600 billion from Medicare spending in 10 years by raising the eligibility age to 67, as well as other tweaks, like making wealthier Americans pay more out-of-pocket. (You can read the entire proposal here.)

The plan is starkly different from the Medicare reform in the House Republican budget plan, which was also supported by the vast majority of Senate Republicans. That proposal is to transform Medicare from a government insurance plan into a voucher system to support the purchase of private insurance.

“We can’t balance our budget without dealing with mandatory spending programs like Medicare. We can’t save Medicare as we know it. We can only save Medicare if we change it. And that’s what the Medicare Reform Plan Tom Coburn and I are proposing will do,” Sen. Lieberman said in a statement.

Sen. Coburn was blunt, however, in the difficulty they face in gaining traction for their reforms.

“Nobody’s going to like this plan. We understand that,” he said at a Tuesday news conference.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., immediately confirmed that at least one powerful person did not like the plan.

“It is unfair to ask seniors to get less in benefits and wait longer to get onto Medicare — all while Republicans back tax breaks for Big Oil and corporations that ship American jobs overseas,” Rep. Pelosi said Tuesday. “Just like the Republican plan to end Medicare, this proposal is unacceptable, especially for struggling middle-class Americans.”

It’s unclear what role this proposal could play in ongoing talks on deficit reduction. But it’s a more centrist proposal than the House Republican plan and could move the ball forward in the U.S. Senate. But expect Medicare reform to be a major political issue, at least for politicians running for re-election in 2012. Democrats are already spreading their message that the House Republican plan ends the program “as we know it,” while Republicans are arguing they’re the only ones willing to make the hard choices to save the program.

Dealing with the cost of Medicare will be crucial in determining America’s fiscal future. There have been a number of proposals in just the last year about how to do this. The Kaiser Family Foundation has a good comparison of some of the proposals here.

REP. BACHMANN’S POLL-MENTUM

First it was Iowa, now it’s New Hampshire.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., whose presidential campaign kickoff got a boost earlier this week with a Des Moines Register poll showing her in a dead heat with Mitt Romney in Iowa, got another jolt Tuesday, this time from a survey of New Hampshire voters.

Rep. Bachmann saw her support in the Granite State jump from 3 percent to 11 percent since May, according to a new Suffolk University poll.

That places her second, behind New Hampshire front-runner Romney at 36 percent, whose standing increased by a single percentage point.

The rest of the field remains in single digits. Texas Rep. Ron Paul held steady at 8 percent. The other notables were Jon Huntsman with 4 percent and Tim Pawlenty, who slipped 3 points down to 2 percent.

A good showing in New Hampshire is especially important for Huntsman, who said he plans to skip the Iowa caucuses.

For Pawlenty, the result is another dose of tough news. The former Minnesota governor claimed 6 percent support in the Register poll released over the weekend despite spending considerable time in the Hawkeye State in recent months.

LIBYA PROGRESS

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 14-5 on Tuesday to send a resolution authorizing the use of force in Libya for one year to the Senate. Four Republicans joined 10 Democrats to approve the measure.

This comes just days after the House did not agree to authorize the operation or to rescind funding for the ongoing NATO-led campaign against Gadhafi’s forces.

National Journal’s Chris Strohm reports that while the panel rejected a measure to cut off funding for military operations, it took a swipe at President Obama’s reasoning that the conflict does not need authorization under the War Powers Resolution by passing via voice vote an amendment rejecting that reasoning:

“‘There is no good reason why President Obama has failed to seek congressional authorization to go to war in Libya,’ said Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Richard Lugar, R-Ind., adding that he believes the U.S. military is intervening in a civil war in the North African country.

State Department legal adviser Harold Hongju Koh testified before the panel, offering a nuanced legal argument for why the administration has not violated the 1973 War Powers Resolution in deploying U.S. military forces in Libya as part of a NATO-led mission to defeat the forces of strongman Muammar el-Qaddafi.”

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.