Obama hosts 11th-hour debt talks
U.S. President Barack Obama is meeting with congressional leaders for a new round of talks Saturday after Republican House Speaker John Boehner broke off negotiations on a broader deal to make massive cuts in federal spending and avert a threatened government debt default.
The president made no comment while media were allowed briefly in to see Obama at the bargaining table with Boehner, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Vice President Joe Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
With the Aug. 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling approaching, Obama expressed his frustration on Friday with congressional leaders, particularly Boehner, over the impasse.
"We've got to get it done," the president said. "It is not an option not to do it."
He said Congress must act immediately to avoid a U.S. default that would upset financial markets and damage the economy.
"I want them here at 11 a.m.," he said on Friday. "They are going to have to explain to me how it is that we are going to avoid a default."
Obama devoted his weekly radio and internet address Saturday to the impasse and urged Republicans to make a deal
"We can come together for the good of the country and reach a compromise. We can strengthen our economy and leave for our children a more secure future," the president said. "Or we can issue insults and demands and ultimatums at each another, withdraw to our partisan corners and achieve nothing."
But Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican representative, pressed the Republicans' opposing view in his party's weekly address.
"If we're going to avoid any type of default and downgrade -- if we're going to resume job creation in America -- the president and his allies need to listen to the people and work with Republicans to cut up the credit cards once and for all," he said.
'No one wants default'
On Friday, Boehner clarified his position: "I want to be entirely clear, no one wants default on the full faith and credit of the United States government, and I'm convinced that we will not."
Boehner and Obama offered sharply different accounts of the compromise efforts so far and who was at fault for the collapse.
"I've been left at the altar now a couple of times," Obama said wryly.
In a letter circulated earlier to the House Republican rank and file, Boehner said he had withdrawn from the talks because the president wanted to raise taxes and was reluctant to agree to cuts in benefit programs.
The disconnect was "not because of different personalities but because of different visions for our country," he said, and he announced he would now seek agreement with the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The president said he expected to hear proposed solutions on Saturday from the top leaders of both parties in both houses.
"One of the questions the Republican Party is going to have to ask itself is, 'Can they say yes to anything?"' Obama said.
The president avoided direct criticism of Boehner, although he did mention that his phone calls to the Speaker had gone unreturned Friday. One administration official said the president had tried to reach Boehner four times. Asked about the spurned calls, Boehner said he didn't think his relationship with Obama had been "irreparably damaged."
"It's the president who walked away from his agreement," Boehner contended. The Speaker said Obama wanted higher taxes and not enough spending cuts.
The president countered that he had offered an "extraordinarily fair deal" that totalled $2.6 trillion US in spending cuts and $1.2 trillion in additional revenue.
Barring action by Congress by an Aug 2 deadline, the Treasury will be unable to pay all its bills. Officials say a default could destabilize the already weakened U.S. economy and send major ripple effects across the globe.