Don't shy away from agenda,Obama urges House Dems
LEESBURG, Va. — Assertive even as he preached humility, President Obama vowed to confront Republicans on the deficit and urged Democrats on Thursday to stick with him on guns and immigration. He scorned a GOP plan to avoid imminent across-the-board spending cuts, declaring flatly “we're on the right side of this argument.”
In an address meant to motivate House Democrats during their annual retreat, Obama cast his overarching agenda as one driven by the fundamental goal of giving every American a fair shot at success. He conceded that Democratic lawmakers, the minority in the House of Representatives, would encounter obstacles and irritations, but called on them to stick to their principles in their confrontations with Republicans.
“It won't be smooth,” Obama said. “It won't be simple. There will be frustrations. There will be times when you guys are mad at me, and occasionally I'll read about it.” Lawmakers exchanged glances and chuckled knowingly.
The speech, given just days before the State of the Union address on Tuesday, was as much a rallying cry as it was a declaration of fair warning from a president confronting the realities of divided government. Curbing gun violence and overhauling immigration laws will be difficult, he said, and he acknowledged that lawmakers will confront contrasting attitudes about both issues in different regions of the country.
He said a consensus could be built around “commonsense” solutions to address gun violence. “We cannot shy away from taking those steps,” he said. As for immigration, he emphasized that “I'm going to be pushing hard to get it done, early.”
But he saved his most partisan remarks for the fiscal debate and the automatic spending cuts that are scheduled to kick in March 1. Obama has proposed about $1 trillion in deficit reduction, nearly evenly balanced between spending cuts and increased tax revenue. If such a deal is unattainable now, he has called on Congress to put off impending cuts with a short-term package of cuts and taxes. Republicans have rejected any proposal that includes higher taxes.
Testifying before the Senate on Thursday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that the looming cuts to the Pentagon present a significant readiness crisis for the military. He said that in anticipation of the cuts, the Pentagon has frozen hiring and cut back on maintenance at bases and facilities.
A group of Republican lawmakers from the House and Senate has offered a plan to cut the federal work force and use the savings to replace cuts to the Pentagon and to domestic programs. Similar legislation offered last year did not pass. House Speaker John Boehner has said he sees an opportunity to overhaul entitlement programs by raising the eligibility age for Medicare and lowering cost-of-living increases for Social Security.
Republicans would “cut Social Security, cut Medicare and not close a single loophole, not raise any additional revenue from the wealthiest Americans or corporations who have a lot of lawyers and accountants who are able to maneuver and manage and work and game the system,” Obama said.