President Barack Obama on Thursday framed his opposition as a Senator to raising the nation’s debt ceiling as a “political vote” and said he is coming at the issue from a different approach as commander in chief.
“That was just an example of a new Senator, you know, making what is a political vote, as opposed to doing what was important for the country. And I’m the first one to acknowledge it,” Obama told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, according to a transcript of the interview.
Lawmakers will turn to the debt ceiling problem after they return to Capitol Hill from a two-week recess on May 2. The issue is expected to become the next big partisan battle, with conservatives demanding deep spending cuts in any legislation raising the limit.
The Treasury Department estimates that the nation will hit the ceiling by May 16 and that emergency measures can delay a default on debts until early July.
Obama has warned that hitting the debt ceiling would be catastrophic, but he’s had to answer for his Senate vote when the same problem came up in 2006 during President George W. Bush’s administration.
“I think that it’s important to understand the vantage point of a Senator versus the vantage point of a President,” Obama told Stephanopoulos on Thursday. “When you’re a Senator, traditionally what’s happened is this is always a lousy vote. Nobody likes to be tagged as having increased the debt limit for the United States by a trillion dollars or a trillion and a half, whatever the number is. And so, traditionally the president’s party ... bears the burden of passing it.
“As President, you start realizing, ‘You know what? We can’t play around with this stuff. This is the full faith in credit of the United States.’”
Obama said he sees “areas of overlap and agreement” on dealing with the deficit in the broader fiscal policy debate.
“Here’s the thing that I think is good,” he said. “Everybody now agrees that the deficit has to be cut. Everybody is roughly at the same figure in terms of what we need to do over the next 10 years: $4 trillion over the next 10 to 12 years.”
The president outlined his long-term deficit-reduction plan in a speech Wednesday that House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) characterized as “excessively partisan.”
But Obama pointed to the compromise on a fiscal 2011 spending bill that he hammered out last week with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as proof of fruitful negotiations.
“As we saw in these last negotiations, we can come up with some very serious spending cuts that Democrats and Republicans can agree helps to put us on the right path,” he said. “The key from my perspective is making sure that it’s balanced.”
Some Republican members of his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform are gauging the receptiveness in their party to raising taxes, an element of Obama’s deficit-reduction plan that Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) strongly opposed Wednesday.
“There were several Republicans on the commission, the fiscal commission that I set up, who agreed that we have to have revenue as part of an overall package. And voted for it,” Obama said. “And they’re in discussions now to see if potentially we can get a bipartisan process started.”
The fiscal commission voted in December on a deficit-reduction plan that included lowering tax rates and eliminating popular deductions. Although the 11 votes in favor of the plan were not enough to reach the threshold needed to send it to Congress, its recommendations have influenced the current debate, and Obama adopted some of its recommendations in his proposal.
The current Congressional Republicans who voted in favor of the fiscal commission’s plan were Sens. Mike Crapo (Idaho) and Tom Coburn (Okla.). The two are members of the bipartisan “gang of six” Senators who are working on legislation based on the commission’s recommendations.