President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner held dueling addresses to the nation Monday night, sparring over who is to blame for the stalemate in Washington ahead of next week’s deadline for raising the debt ceiling.
From the White House, Obama accused Republicans of playing a “dangerous game” that risks a debt default in a week. He urged compromise to break the impasse and avoid a manufactured economic crisis that he said would lead to much higher interest rates.
Obama warned that the public should not become “collateral damage” to Washington infighting. “The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government,” he said.
He warned that the government would not have enough money to pay all its bills, including Social Security checks, veterans’ benefits and government contractors.
Obama said the approach put forward Monday by Boehner would risk the nation’s credit rating by kicking the can down the road and could set up another default crisis in six months.
“It doesn’t solve the problem,” Obama said of the plan, which ties spending cuts to a short-term debt ceiling increase and does not include revenues.
The president reiterated his push for revenues, even though Senate Democrats caved on that issue when Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) offered his alternative debt ceiling proposal Monday.
“Most Americans, regardless of political party, don’t understand how we can ask a senior citizen to pay more for her Medicare before we ask corporate jet owners and oil companies to give up tax breaks that other companies don’t get,” he said.
He cast the House GOP as refusing to compromise, even though he said many Senate Republicans and even Boehner had shown a willingness to do so.
“History is scattered with the stories of those who held fast to rigid ideologies and refused to listen to those who disagreed,” Obama said. “But those are not the Americans we remember. We remember the Americans who put country above self and set personal grievances aside for the greater good.”
He even quoted President Ronald Reagan on an earlier bipartisan compromise with Congressional Democrats that included new revenue.
But Boehner, following the president, talked tough about holding the line on spending. “In Washington, more spending and more debt is business as usual,” he said. “I’ve got news for Washington: Those days are over.”
Boehner said that he made a sincere effort to work with Obama but that the “president would not take yes for an answer” and changed his demands in mid-negotiation.
“The sad truth is the president wanted a blank check six months ago, and he wants a blank check today,” he said.
Boehner said Obama created the “crisis atmosphere” surrounding the debt ceiling, and it would be resolved if the Senate simply adopts his plan and the president signs it.
The Speaker also defended his latest package, which he said was developed with the support of bipartisan leadership in the Senate, something Democrats spent the day denying. Boehner added that the plan would cut spending by more than $1 trillion and convene a committee to do the “hard but necessary work” of further cutting the deficit.
“The solution to this crisis is not complicated: If you’re spending more money than you’re taking in, you need to spend less of it,” Boehner said.
The ongoing debt ceiling debate has put presidential politicking on hold, with Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden canceling a handful of re-election fundraisers on the West Coast over the past few weeks, though some are rescheduled for August. If negotiations are still ongoing next week, Obama will skip a long-planned 50th birthday fundraiser in Chicago, a Democratic source told Roll Call.
Instead of attending a D.C. fundraiser Monday night, Obama sent Biden in his place so he could deliver the debt ceiling address.
Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.