President Barack Obama ratcheted up the pressure yesterday on Republicans to get off their our-way-or -the-highway position in the debt/deficit talks between the White House and Congress.
The president said Republicans' refusal to raise revenues to close the $4 trillion debt by ending tax breaks for corporate jet owners and oil and gas corporations is a "maximalist" position and "unsustainable."
He said the American people would agree that it's more important to invest in education than it is for billionaires and millionaires to have tax breaks that no one else has.
"Before we ask our seniors to pay more for health care, before we cut our children's education, before we sacrifice our commitment to the research and innovation that will help create more jobs in the economy, I think it's only fair to ask an oil company or a corporate jet owner that has done so well to give up a tax break that no other business enjoys. I don't think that's real radical. I think the majority of Americans agree with that," he said.
Vice President Joe Biden and Republican House leader Eric Cantor headed the talks and identified $1 trillion in cuts before Cantor walked out refusing to consider ending government subsidies for billionaires and Big Oil.
The president said everyone, except Republicans in office, agrees there has to be a "balanced approach" between budget cuts and raising revenue "from folks who are doing extremely well, and enjoy the lowest tax rates since before I was born."
"They can still ride on their corporate jet. They just have to pay a little more," he said.
Obama said Republicans have to make some "tough choices" that would rile their tea party constituency, and that he took on some "sacred cows" that affected his Democratic base.
"Now is the time to go ahead and make the tough choices. That's why they're called leaders. And I've already shown that I'm willing to make some decisions that are very tough and will give my base of voters further reason to give me a hard time. But it's got to be done," he said.
The U.S. government is coming up against a "debt ceiling," which requires Congress to OK more borrowing.
Obama challenged rumors that it wouldn't be a big deal if the U.S. government couldn't borrow more money to pay its bills, and linked it to the larger issue of job creation and getting out of the economic crisis.
"I want everybody to understand that this is a jobs issue. This is not an abstraction. 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," he said.
He took on other notions that all the government has to do is pay the interest for bondholders, saying you still have to decide which bills to pay.
"So are we really going to start paying interest to Chinese who hold treasuries and we're not going to pay folks their Social Security checks?"
This debt is based on money that Congress had already spent, he said.
"These are bills that Congress ran up. The money has been spent. The obligations have been made. This is not a situation where Congress is going to say, okay, we won't -- we won't buy this car or we won't take this vacation. They took the vacation. They bought the car. And now they're saying maybe we don't have to pay ... "
Analysts say Republicans want to make the U.S. government default to send the economy into chaos in order to recapture the White House in 2012.
Former Associated Press journalist Robert Parry compared the Republican maneuvers to CIA destabilization schemes to unseat democratic governments like in 1970s Chile.
Parry said Republicans want to make "America as ungovernable as possible by using almost any means available, from challenging the legitimacy of opponents to spreading lies and disinformation to sabotaging the economy."
He said Republicans are organized and armed with a potent propaganda machine and possess an extraordinary political will to even push "the U.S. economy off the cliff and blame the catastrophe on Obama" as perhaps "their best hope for winning" in 2012.
Photo: President Barack Obama listens to a question during a press conference in the East Room of the White House, June 29, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)