Obama is flexing his leverage on debt, immigration
Obama, as part of a broader deficit-spending debate, energetically negotiated, offering spending cuts to balky Republicans. After the stare-down went to the final hour, a rating agency downgraded the nation's credit-worthiness because of the endless quarreling in Washington.
This time, Obama says he will refuse to negotiate over the debt limit. GOP lawmakers, he said at a news conference Monday, can either "act responsibly and pay America's bills, or they can act irresponsibly, and put America through another economic crisis. But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy."
The president backed up the tough talk by rejecting potential legal bypasses, which some Democratic leaders have implored him to consider. One would invoke the constitutional requirement that the public debt's validity "shall not be questioned." Another envisions minting a $1 trillion coin to boost federal coffers.
"There are no magic tricks here," Obama told reporters. "There are no easy outs."
The remarks were aimed at both parties. But Republican leaders may be in the tougher spot.
Many House Republicans answer to deeply conservative voters who say it might not be a bad idea to shut down large sections of the federal government — either by refusing to lift the debt ceiling around mid-February or by refusing to appropriate new funds when the U.S. budget runs dry in late March.
After voters chiefly blamed Republicans for a partial government shutdown in the mid-1990s, during a budget quarrel with President Bill Clinton, some GOP leaders swore never to take that route again.
But House Speaker John Boehner said this week that Republicans will insist on spending cuts that Democrats oppose, and they will reject tax hikes Obama seeks. The two parties are on a collision course, again.
Republicans openly laugh at the president's refusal to negotiate. Obama, in turn, is almost daring Republicans to carry their threats to the end.
The Republican policy on taxes and spending, he said Monday, "was rejected by the American people when it was debated during the presidential campaign."
Obama is less aggressive on issues, including climate change, where public opinion is divided and full-blown national debates have yet to take place. On deficit-spending policy and issues important to Hispanics, however, November's election gave him new leverage.
"Republicans are in a double bind over the debt and immigration," said Democratic strategist Doug Hattaway. "If Republicans cause a debt default and block immigration reform, they will have severely damaged the party's prospects for recovery from the thrashing they took in November."
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