Obama Calls Democratic, GOP Leaders To Debt Talks

Jul 6, 2011
Originally published on July 6, 2011 7:43 am

President Obama invited Democratic and Republican congressional leaders to the White House for face-to-face meetings on the budget Thursday.

"It's my hope," Obama told reporters at the White House on Tuesday, "that everybody's going to leave their ultimatums at the door, that we'll all leave our political rhetoric at the door, and we're all going to do what's best for our economy and do what's best for our people."

The president would like to reach an agreement within two weeks, which would leave time to raise the federal debt ceiling before an Aug. 2 deadline.

At the same time, the financial world remains skittish, and investors are on alert. They're still recovering their confidence from some pretty hard shakes in 2007 and 2008. Now they're watching other countries, especially Greece, deal with the effects of too much government debt built up over years of spending.

And then they look at the U.S., where the federal government is borrowing 40 cents of every dollar it spends. The debt tops $14 trillion, and the benefits the government has promised to people who are retiring cost a lot more than it can afford.

Investors see serious work that needs to be done, but members of Congress don't necessarily seem to be acting so serious.

"That is almost so irresponsible that it is frightening," says former Rep. John Tanner, a Democrat from Tennessee. He finds it jaw-dropping that some lawmakers continue to say the U.S. can just nip and tuck here and there or find some easy solution and things will be just fine.

"This debt ceiling business is a live-fire exercise — they're not shooting blanks," Tanner adds.

At the Concord Coalition, a fiscally conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., Chief Economist Diane Lim Rogers says lawmakers may actually be making the problem worse with their rhetoric.

"All show, a lot of theatrics, a lot of hype — it doesn't help the cause because it makes the American people think, 'Oh, it's just politics,' " Rogers says.

It's not politics, she says — it's real. If lawmakers can't get together and fix this problem, the U.S. could lose its status as the most stable of the world's economies. That would hurt everybody in the country.

Rogers says the Democrats think "maybe we can just tax rich people, or evil corporations, or maybe we don't have to cut major benefit programs — maybe we can just cut waste, fraud and abuse."

On the other side, Republicans say, the only solution they'll accept is spending cuts, and they will not consider ending tax breaks for corporations or raising taxes of any kind.

None of this sits well with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who was chairman of the House Budget Committee when he balanced the budget with President Clinton in the 1990s.

Kasich told CBS that lawmakers must drop all the posturing and ideological orthodoxy: "At the end of the day, you look yourself in the mirror, and you say to yourself, 'Did I do what was right for families and for children, and if I paid a political price, so what?' "

That's the kind of attitude the president wants in his meeting Thursday. Come to the White House, he says, but leave your rhetoric at the door.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Now let's talk about the chances of a political meltdown. President Obama says the United States could be facing a fiscal emergency if Republicans and Democrats cannot work out the deals on the budget and the debt ceiling. He has summoned congressional leaders to the White House for face to face meetings tomorrow. The top two members of each party in each chamber of Congress, the so-called Big 8, will gather at the White House.

BARACK OBAMA: It's my hope that everybody's going to leave their ultimatums at the door, that we'll all leave our political rhetoric at the door, and that we're going to do what's best for our economy and do what's best for our people.

INSKEEP: NPR's Andrea Seabrook is tracking the budget negotiations.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Investors see serious work that needs to be done. But the people who have to do this work - that is, members of Congress - aren't necessarily acting so serious.

JOHN TANNER: That is almost so irresponsible that it is frightening.

SEABROOK: Former Congressman John Tanner, a Democrat from Tennessee, he finds it jaw-dropping that some lawmakers continue to say that the U.S. can just nip and tuck here and there, or find some easy solution and things will be just fine. The problem is much bigger than that - and there's no time to mess around, says Tanner.

TANNER: This debt ceiling business is a live fire exercise. They're not shooting blanks.

SEABROOK: At the Concord Coalition, a fiscally conservative think tank in Washington, chief economist Diane Lim Rogers says lawmakers may actually be making the problem worse with their rhetoric.

DIANE LIM ROGERS: You know, all show, a lot of theatrics, a lot of hype, it doesn't help the cause because it makes the American people think, oh, it's just politics.

SEABROOK: It's not politics, says Rogers, it's real. And if lawmakers can't get together and fix this problem, the U.S. could lose its status as the most stable of the world's economies. That would hurt everybody in the country. OK, so Congress should go fix that, right? Well that's where we are now. The Democrats, says Rogers, are saying...

LIM ROGERS: Maybe we can just tax rich people or evil corporations. Or maybe we don't have to cut major benefit programs, maybe we can just cut out waste, fraud and abuse.

SEABROOK: On the other side, Republicans are saying the only solution they'll accept is spending cuts, and they will not consider ending tax breaks for corporations or raising taxes of any kind. None of this sits well with John Kasich. He's the Republican Governor of Ohio, and he was chairman of the House Budget Committee when he balanced the budget with President Clinton in the 1990s. Kasich told CBS that lawmakers must drop all the posturing and ideological orthodoxy.

JOHN KASICH: At the end of the day you look yourself in the mirror and you say to yourself, did I do what was right for families and for children - and if I paid a political price, so what?

SEABROOK: Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.