Obama Tells Congressmen to Eat Their Peas on Debt Ceiling

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The president said that the only deal he would reject was a short-term one, and vowed to meet with negotiators every day until there's an agreement

President Obama used his bully pulpit on Monday to continue to call for a larger deficit-reduction deal that would produce closer to $4 trillion in spending cuts and include tax increases.

"Now is the time to deal with these issues. If not now, when?" Obama said at a press conference. "I've been hearing from my Republican friends for quite some time that it is a moral imperative for us to tackle our debts and our deficits in a serious way. I've been hearing from them that this is one of the things that is creating uncertainty and holding back investment on the part of the business community. So what I've said to them is, 'Let's go.'"

His remarks flew in the face of demands by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) Saturday that negotiators work on a smaller deal that can pass the House.

Boehner's announcement that he would abandon attempts to pass a long-term deal indicated that the conservative wing of his caucus is indeed powerful enough to limit the size of an agreement. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), represented that wing of the party and dominated discussion at tense talks at the White House on Sunday evening. The only agreement negotiators and congressional leaders reached was a commitment to meet again Monday, at 2 p.m.

Cantor is urging the group to adopt the $2.5 trillion framework for reduction that was discussed during talks led by Vice President Joe Biden. Cantor pulled out of those talks two weeks ago, calling on Obama and Boehner to lead negotiations.

But Obama argued that it is time for everyone to do the hard thing politically. "I'm prepared to take on significant heat from my party to get something done. And I expect the other side should be willing to do the same thing if they mean what they say, that this is important."

The president's press conference, which was announced on Sunday night, is an attempt to gain political cover by convincing the public that Republicans are to blame if leaders fail to reach a deal and the U.S. defaults on its debts. Obama's advisers, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, have warned that it would have an immediate and disastrous effect on the economy.

In one of his most politically charged uses of the presidential podium in recent months, Obama played the role of the annoyed parent, something he's done before. He ordered congressional leaders to "pull off the Band-Aid. Eat our peas."

Almost two weeks ago in the East Room, Obama chastised leaders for their inability to agree, comparing debt talks to the homework assignments his two daughters get.

"And, you know, Malia and Sasha generally finish their homework a day ahead of time. Malia is 13, Sasha is 10. It is impressive," Obama said at the time. "They don't wait until the night before. They're not pulling all-nighters. They're 13 and 10. Congress can do the same thing. If you know you've got to do something, just do it."

Image credit: Saul Loeb, Getty Images

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Rebecca Kaplan is a staff writer (White House) for National Journal.

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