Obama confronts Congress on economy, debt and Libya

at 01:18 PM ET, 06/29/2011


U.S. President Barack Obama listens to a question during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, June 29, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
President Obama had a simple message for congressional Republicans in a press conference Wednesday: Stand up and lead.

Obama, often in harsh and stark terms, condemned the approach that House and Senate Republicans have adopted in the final stretch of the negotiations surrounding the increase in the nation’s debt limit.

“They’re in one week, they’re out one week,” said Obama of Congress. “And then they’re saying Obama needs to step in. I’ve been here.”

He repeatedly challenged Republicans to make compromises in order to adopt a truly “balanced approach” to the debt deal; “Call me naive, but my expectation is leaders are going to lead,” he said.

Obama’s confrontational approach toward Congress extended beyond the debt negotiations — seeping into answers he gave on job creation, the broader economy and Libya.

On each issue, Obama cast himself as the adult in the room and Congress as an irresponsible child — unwilling to sacrifice their desire to score political points for the good of the country.

He even made that comparison explicit — citing his two daughters’ tendency to get their homework done a day in advance as a good example for Congress to follow.

Politically, blaming Congress is a sound strategy. Poll after poll shows the institution is tremendously unpopular. In a new Associated Press-GfK poll just one in five people approved of the job Congress is doing.

And, attacking Republicans is also a major political winner for Obama among his liberal base — many of whom believe that the president has been insufficiently tough on the GOP since the 2010 election.

From a policy perspective, it’s tougher to know how Obama’s repeated challenges to Republicans will impact the final negotiations on the debt ceiling.

Obama’s press conference came less than 48 hours after he huddled with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) to discuss the parameters of a debt limit deal.

That he took such an aggressive tone with the negotiations headed into the final stretch suggest that a deal is not on the verge of being done — and that Obama has made the calculation that the only way to make a deal real is to ramp up the political pressure on Republicans.

“I think it would be hard for Republicans to stand there and say the tax break for corporate jets is sufficiently important that we are not willing to come to the table and get a deal done,” Obama said at one point, a comment sure to rile Republicans.

It’s hard to see Republicans being anything but upset about today’s press conference given the level of blame they came in for.

Does that harden their previous position that any deal that includes tax increases is a non-starter? Or is it possible that Obama’s use of the bully pulpit will reframe the national conversation on the debt ceiling in such a way that Congressional Republicans will feel compelled to put more on the table?

Our (cynical) guess is that the former option is far more likely — although, in politics, most anything is possible.

Of course, looming over all of this is the Aug. 2 deadline for raising the debt ceiling — a date that Obama insisted today is not something with which to trifle.

He called the deadline a “hard” one and said Congress was simply delaying the inevitable; “If you know you’ve got to do something, just do it,” he urged.

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