Obama: Congress Must ‘Get it Done’ on Debt Limit

BY News Desk  June 29, 2011 at 10:41 AM EDT

Updated 1:58 p.m. ET | In his first news conference in three months, President Obama addressed the impending Aug. 2 debt limit and questions about military engagement in Libya and Afghanistan.

On the issue of debt, the president said both parties have identified $1 trillion in cuts – but in order to reach the targeted $4 trillion mark, they will need to tackle the entire government budget, from defense to tax breaks. “It would be nice if we could keep every tax break there is but we have to make some tough choices,” he said.

“It’s not often that Washington sees both parties agree on the scale and urgency” of the same problem, he added, referring to a potential hit to the government’s credit rating.

When asked about Republicans’ resistance to tax hikes, most notably House Speaker John Boehner, President Obama suggested that pragmatism would win out over politics when push comes to shove. “A lot of people say a lot of things to satisfy their base or get on cable news but…hopefully leaders rise to the occasion and do the right thing for the American people,” he said. “Democrats have to accept some painful spending cuts…and we’ve shown a willingness to do that for the greater good.”

In a challenge to congressional Republicans, President Obama insisted that getting rid of certain tax breaks for oil companies and the wealthiest Americans must be included in any deficit reduction plan.

“You stay here. Let’s get it done,” the president chided lawmakers, leaving the possibility of keeping Congress in Washington unless there is significant progress by the end of the week on a deal to cut deficits, raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit and avert a threatened financial crisis. He said a plan must be in place by Aug. 2, which he referred to as “a hard deadline.”

NBC’s Chuck Todd summed up the news conference in this manner:

The Big Theme of this presser: POTUS v Congress. Tougher rhetoric against Congress on a slew of issues: debt and Libya being at top.less than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry® Favorite Retweet Reply

The president said the War Powers Act, which has been called into question over the NATO-led mission in Libya, is not relevant to the scale of the military action, and that it was originally designed when America had troops and money pouring into Vietnam.

“We have done exactly what I said we would do: we have not put any boots on the ground, and our allies…have carried a big load when it comes to these NATO operations and as a consequence we’ve protected thousands of people in Libya,” he said, pointing out that there has not been a single U.S. casualty in the operation. He said “a lot of this fuss is politics” and that the War Powers Act controversy has become a “cause celebre for some in Congress.”

The president defended his decision to draw down more than 30,000 surge troops form Afghanistan in the coming year, saying the military has succeeded in several core areas of their mission and been able to “severely cripple al-Qaida’s capacities…even before bin Laden, we had decimated the middle ranks and some of the upper ranks of the al-Qaida operation.”

“I laid out … a plan in which we are going to be drawing down our troops from Afghanistan after 10 very long years and enormous sacrifice by our troops, but we will draw them down in a responsible way that will allow Afghanistan to defend itself,” he said.

In response to a question about the attack on Kabul’s Inter-Continental hotel Tuesday night, the president said he believed Afghan security forces, who have policed Kabul for some time, was safer overall and said the attack represented the type of incident that would continue over time, not a trend. The president likened the phased-out withdrawal to Iraq, where violence is down from its peak but where violence is an ongoing challenge in the transition.

The president also praised the decision in New York to legalize same-sex marriage, saying his administration has worked toward providing federal benefits to same-sex couples and helped end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Reporters peppered the president with questions on a wide range of topics, from the debt debate to same-sex marriage and labor disputes. We’ll look more closely at some of those issues here:

Congressional Recesses Amid Debt Limit Debate

In a news conference that was rife with criticism for Congress, the president invoked his daughters’ study habits in pressing lawmakers to reach a deal on the debt limit.

Mr. Obama said Malia, 13, and Sasha, 10, both get their homework done a day early.

“They don’t wait until the night before,” he said. “They’re not pulling all-nighters. Congress can do the same thing. If you know you’ve got to do something, just do it.”

The president said he was amused by comments that he should show more leadership on the issue, saying he’s met with caucuses on both sides of the aisle and that the talks led by Vice President Joe Biden have shown progress.

“At a certain point, they need to do their job,” the president said about Congress.

Earlier this month, NewsHour regulars Mark Shields and David Brooks discussed Congress taking breaks while the debt limit debate lingers and the chances of a deal going down to the wire.

Same-Sex Marriage

President Obama called New York’s legalization of same-sex marriage “a good thing” because people debated and reached a decision, but he stopped short of endorsing gay nuptials. The president said other states and communities will come to their own conclusions.

The president, who supports civil unions, has said his views on same-sex marriage are “evolving” and defended his administration’s record on gay rights, pointing to eliminating the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly gay men and women serving in the military, as well as ordering the Justice Department not to defend a law that defines marriage as between a man and woman.

Earlier this week, Jeffrey Brown discussed the New York vote and the future of same-sex marriage in the United States with the National Organization for Marriage’s Maggie Gallagher and Democratic New York Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell.

Taking Aim at Jet Owners

In the first minutes of his news conference, the president took aim multiple times at people and corporations with private jets.

“The tax cuts I’m proposing we get rid of are tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, tax breaks for oil companies and hedge fund companies and jet owners,” he said.

Paul Volpe, deputy political editor for The New York Times, pointed out:

Corporate jet tax break mentions: 6 — Obama is going on offense, much as he did after release of Ryan budget.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply

Obama: Companies Need Freedom to Relocate

Asked about a new $750 million Boeing factory in South Carolina that is at the center of a controversial National Labor Relations Board case, President Obama said it would defy common sense for the company to have to close the plant or lay off workers due to a labor dispute with the government.

The president said U.S. companies need to have the freedom to relocate work, though they must follow the law when doing so.

Margaret Warner discussed the matter with The New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse.

We’ll have much more about the debt limit debate and President Obama’s news conference on Wednesday’s NewsHour broadcast.