Obama: Republican Leaders Must Bend on Taxes

3:45 p.m. | Updated President Obama said Wednesday that he believed Republicans would concede to tax increases as part of a deficit reduction package in time to avoid a default on the nation’s debt, and voiced exasperation at the lack of progress in negotiations between the administration and Congressional leaders.

“Call me naïve,” he told reporters at a midday news conference in the East Room of the White House. “But my expectation is that leaders are going to lead.”

He accused the Republicans, who last week dropped out of negotiations on the budget, of avoiding tough decisions and said they were playing a dangerous game that could significantly affect the nation’s struggling economy and capital markets and slow down private efforts to create jobs.

Mr. Obama repeatedly mocked tax breaks that he said were for “millionaires and billionaires, oil companies and corporate jet owners,” saying that voters would not look kindly on Republican lawmakers who defended such breaks at the cost of cuts in popular programs like health care, education and food safety.

But he did not explicitly say that he would reject a deal that did not eliminate such breaks, saying that he believed his adversaries would eventually agree to what Democrats have called a “balanced approach” that included trillions of dollars in spending cuts along with tax increases.

“If you are a wealthy C.E.O. or hedge fund manager in America right now, your taxes are lower than they have ever been. They are lower than they have been since the 1950s. And they can afford it,” Mr. Obama said. “You can still ride on your corporate jet. You’re just going to have to pay a little more.”

The speaker of the House, John A. Boehner, issued a blistering response, accusing the president of ignoring “legislative and economic reality” and of being AWOL in the debate over efforts to reduce national spending.

“His administration has been burying our kids and grandkids in new debt and offered no plan to rein in spending,” Mr. Boehner said in a statement.

The speaker reiterated his opposition to tax increases and said Mr. Obama was “sorely mistaken” if he believed that tax increase would pass in the House. He vowed that House Republicans would block anything that includes increased taxes.

“The longer the president denies these realities, the more difficult he makes this process,” Mr. Boehner said. “If the president embraces a measure that meets these tests, he has my word that the House will act on it. Anything less cannot pass the House.”

Questions about the looming debt deadline dominated the early part of the news conference, the first in several months for the president. But Mr. Obama was also asked about a series of other domestic and foreign policy issues.

On the American intervention in Libya, Mr. Obama defended his administration’s actions against Congressional critics who say the military activities there violate the War Powers Act, which requires Congress to give its formal approval.

“We have engaged in a limited operation to help a lot of people against one of the worst tyrants in the world,” Mr. Obama said, deflecting a question about whether he believes the War Powers Act is constitutional. “This suddenly becomes the cause célèbre for some folks in Congress? C’mon.”

On the issue of same-sex marriage, Mr. Obama declined to say whether he had changed his mind about his personal opposition. But he said New York’s decision to legalize same sex marriage was a “good thing.”

“That’s exactly how things should work,” he said, noting that different communities will come to different conclusions on the issue. “I think we are moving in a direction of greater equality, and I think that’s a good thing.”

Mr. Obama said his administration had done more than all of his predecessors combined to advance the rights of gay men and lesbians in America. Mr. Obama is scheduled to host a gay pride event at the White House on Wednesday afternoon.

But his remarks are likely to disappoint gay activists, who were hoping that Mr. Obama would say that his personal opposition to gay marriage had ended. In the past, the president has said his position is “evolving.”

On the economy, Mr. Obama sounded dire warnings about the consequences of delaying a resolution on the debt negotiations, and expressed exasperation with Republicans in Congress, saying they needed to “do their job” instead of blaming him for a lack of leadership.

In a remarkable display of frustration, Mr. Obama said he was “amused” by Republican comments that he had not offered a clear direction in the effort to cut the budget and increase the nation’s debt ceiling.

“They are in one week, they are out one week,” the president said, in a week that the House is out of session. “You need to be here. I’ve been here. I’ve been doing Afghanistan and Bin Laden and the Greek crisis. You stay here. Let’s get it done. All right, I think you know my feelings about that.”

Mr. Obama compared the lack of resolution in the debt talks to his daughters’ ability to get their homework done a day early.

“They’re not waiting til the night before. They are not pulling all-nighters,” Mr. Obama said. “They need to do their job. They need to go ahead and make the tough choices.”

Mr. Obama also mocked Republicans in Congress who have questioned whether the Aug. 2 deadline set by the Treasury Department for a default on the debt has been hyped for political reasons. He said the people making those claims would force the government to pick and choose who they would pay and who they would leave hanging.

“This is not a situation where Congress is going to say we won’t buy this car or we won’t take the vacation. They took the vacation. They bought the car. And now they are saying, maybe we don’t have to pay,” Mr. Obama said. “If the United States government, for the first time, cannot pay its bills, if it defaults, then the consequences for the U.S. economy will be significant and unpredictable. And that is not a good thing.”

In his opening statement, Mr. Obama said his administration was making efforts to spur job creation, but challenged Congress to pass bills that would help private companies add to their payrolls. He cited bills that would make it easier to get patents on inventions, expand loans to private businesses for hiring and pass long-delayed trade deals.
“I urge Congress to act on these ideas right now,” he said.

On the debt talks, Mr. Obama said he was open to extending payroll tax cuts and other tax breaks that would help spur economic growth in the short term. “I think that it makes perfect sense for us to take a look at can we extend the payroll tax cut another year?” the president told reporters. “What we need to do is to restore business confidence and the confidence of the American people that we are on track.”

The president declined to comment on a controversial decision by the National Labor Relations Board to go to court to contest a decision by Boeing to build a nonunion plant in South Carolina. The decision by the independent agency has been criticized by Republicans as an infringement on right-to-work states and on the right of corporate managers to decide where to do business. The case is before a judge in Seattle.

But the president acknowledged the political sensitivities of the issue at a time when people are clamoring for the kinds of jobs that the Boeing plant would create. “If they are choosing to relocate here in the U.S., that’s a good thing,” Mr. Obama said. “What defies common sense is the notion that we would be shutting down a plant or laying off workers because labor and management can’t come to an agreement.”

Asked about concern in the military that the policy on how to handle terrorist suspects captured abroad was unclear, Mr. Obama said that his “top priority” was “to make sure that we are apprehending those who would attack the United States, and that we are getting all the intelligence that we can.”

But he said that “frankly, there are going to be different dispositions of the case depending on the situation.”

Pressed a second time on his personal views of same-sex marriage, Mr. Obama declined to elaborate, saying, “I’m not going to make news on that today” and telling the reporter who asked, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, “Good try, though.”

Later, Mr. Obama added: “I’ll keep on giving you the same answer until I give you a different one. And that won’t be today.”

This article “Obama: Republican Leaders Must Bend on Taxes” originally appeared at The New York Times.