Photo by Charles Dharapak
WASHINGTON -- Imploring both political parties to give ground, President Barack Obama declared Monday he would reject any stopgap extension of the nation's borrowing limit, adding fresh urgency for Republicans and fellow Democrats to resolve intense tax and spending disputes and head off economic calamity.
''If not now, when?'' Obama said in a news conference just ahead of his latest bargaining session with congressional leaders at the White House. That meeting lasted about 90 minutes.
Obama told reporters he would meet every day with top lawmakers until they found agreement on a deal, and he refused to even entertain the idea of a backup plan should they fail and the government should default on Aug. 2.
''We are going to get this done,'' Obama insisted. They have two weeks or less to do so in order to get any deal through Congress in time.
Yet the path to an agreement remained hard to see. Even as he spoke, Republicans affirmed their opposition to the tax increases he sees as crucial along with spending cuts for reducing huge federal deficits and restraining the soaring national debt.
A potential deal -- a package of spending cuts and tax increases that could total $2 trillion or more over a decade -- is considered necessary for Congress to lift the nation's $14.3 trillion debt limit. Failure to lift that cap could cause the government to default on its bills and sink the economy and the world into deeper trouble.
Obama renewed his case Monday for a package that would put a historic dent in the country's deficits by blending politically poisonous elements for both parties: tax hikes for the wealthy and big corporations opposed by Republicans and social service cuts that Democrats decry.
Speaking shortly before heading to the White House, House Speaker John Boehner stood firm in his opposition to including tax increases.
''Do you need to raise taxes in order to get control of spending? I think the answer is no,'' he said.
Said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia: ''We are not going to raise taxes. That's all.''
Obama tried to alter the debate by saying that any potential tax increases on wealthier people would not take effect until 2013. That would fall after the next election, when Obama will seek re-election and control of the House and the Senate will be at stake. Meanwhile, a short-term debt-limit increase would keep the issue boiling during the campaign.
The president said he would refuse to accept stopgap legislation. ''It's not going to get easier; it's going to get harder,'' Obama said. ''So we might as well do it now. Pull off the Band-Aid. Eat our peas.''