WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Saturday urged lawmakers in Congress to put aside partisan politics and forge a comprehensive agreement to raise the debt ceiling to avoid a first-ever U.S. government default.
“All of us – including Republicans in the House of Representatives – need to demonstrate the same kind of responsibility that the American people show every day. The time for putting party first is over. The time for compromise on behalf of the American people is now,” Obama said in his weekly national radio address.
Obama said weeks of negotiations between Democratic and Republican leaders had found much “common ground,” but he zeroed in on conservatives in the House, commonly supported by the anti-Obama Tea Party movement, as a “faction” holding the U.S. economy “captive.”
“Any solution to avoid default must be bipartisan. It must have the support of both parties that were sent here to represent the American people – not just one faction of one party,” Obama said.
Obama spoke as a bitter mood prevailed on Capitol Hill as U.S. lawmakers struggled on Saturday to find a compromise measure to lift the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit three days before a deadline to avert a ruinous default.
The debt saga shifted to the Senate late on Friday after the Republican-controlled House passed a deficit-cutting bill that Obama and Senate Democrats already said they opposed.
The Senate quickly killed that bill, which would have extended the debt ceiling by just a few months. Democrats who control the Senate are now pushing ahead with their own, longer-term deficit-cutting plan that would avoid another debt-ceiling stalemate before the 2012 election.
“Look, the parties are not that far apart here. We’re in rough agreement on how much spending we need to cut to reduce our deficit. We agree on a process to tackle tax reform and entitlement reform. There are plenty of ways out of this mess. But there is very little time,” Obama said on Saturday.
“Republicans in the House of Representatives just spent precious days trying to pass a plan that a majority of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate had already said they wouldn’t vote for,” Obama said.
“It’s a plan that wouldn’t solve our fiscal problems, but would force us to re-live this crisis in just a few short months. It would hold our economy captive to Washington politics once again.” he said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Obama said the threat of a U.S. default was real and “would be inexcusable, and entirely self-inflicted by Washington.”
The loss of the country’s Triple A credit rating would not be “because we didn’t have the capacity to pay our bills – we do – but because we didn’t have a Triple A political system to match it,” Obama said.
“And make no mistake – for those who reflexively oppose tax increases on anyone, a lower credit rating would be a tax increase on everyone – we’d pay higher interest rates on mortgages, car loans, and credit cards,” Obama said.