President Obama opened up his press conference with jabs at Congress for failing to pass a series of bills aimed at creating jobs and at Republicans for refusing to end tax breaks on the wealthy.
Acknowledging widespread pessimism among Americans over the state of the economy, Obama urged patience.
“The struggles of middle class families were a big problem before the recession hit in 2007,” he said. “They weren’t created overnight, and the truth is our economic challenges are not going to be solved overnight.”
Without directly singling out Republicans, Obama outlined a series of steps Congress could do to help bolster job creation.
“There are a number of steps that my administration is taking, but there are a number of steps that Congress could take,” he said. “Many of these ideas have been tied up in Congress for some time.”
They included passing a number of pending free trade agreements, a move popular with many GOP lawmakers, but also renewing temporary tax breaks negotiated with Republicans as part of the deal extending the Bush tax cuts last year. Democrats have recently used the GOP’s refusal to extend the payroll tax cut to imply Republicans are deliberately tanking the economy, since tax breaks for businesses typically enjoy broad support from the party. Obama did not go that far, but his explicit call on Congress to take action lends weight to the Democrats’ pressure and could be a preview of his 2012 campaign message.
Top Republican negotiators recently left talks with the White House over the debt limit, citing the White House’s insistence on raising revenue in a final agreement as a dealbreaker. Asked about their intransigence, Obama did not draw a line in the sand on whether he would support a deal that did not include tax increases, but said that a major deficit reduction package is “going to have to require tough decisions and balanced solutions.” He repeatedly framed the debate in class terms, accusing the GOP of shielding the rich and powerful from sacrifices while demanding more hardship for poor and middle-class Americans.
“Before we ask our seniors to pay more for Medicare, before we cut our children’s schools, we should ask corporate jet owners to pay more,” he said. “I don’t think that’s real radical. I think the majority of Americans agree with that.”
He emphasized, however, that the prospect of default was a “jobs issue” that could do major damage to the economy. Republican lawmakers have openly questioned the Treasury Department’s August deadline for a deal, but Obama stressed that they meant business.
“By August 2, we run out of tools to make sure that all our bills are paid, so that is a hard deadline,” he said. “If the United States government for the first time cannot pay its bills, if it defaults, then the consequences for the US economy will be significant and unpredictable.”
Obama said leaders should not rest until a deal was completed.
“If by the end of this week we have not seen sustainable progress, we’re going to start canceling things and making sure they’re here until its done,” he said.
Obama declined to weigh in on a legal dispute between the National Labor Relations Board and Boeing over whether a manufacturing line they opened in South Carolina is illegal retaliation against the company’s union workers in Washington State.
“It’s an independent agency, it’s going before a judge, so I don’t want to get into the details of the case,” he said. He added that “we can’t afford to have labor and management fighting all the time at a time we’re competing against Germany, China, and other companies that want to sell goods all around the world.”
Republicans have made the labor dispute a major issue, with some Senators even threatening to defund the agency over the move. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) is a crucial endorsement in the 2012 primaries, making it a hot topic for the GOP presidential field as well.
Obama’s answer is likely to infuriate GOP critics, many of whom have demanded he directly address the issue. But Democratic leaders have offered the same message in recent weeks, saying that neither they nor Republicans should interfere with the NLRB. Although Obama appoints its members, the agency is independent and the White House does not make its decisions on individual cases.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.