Obama: "Real differences" remain on debt deal

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Obama Press Conference
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President Obama has invited Republican and Democratic congressional leaders to the White House for a meeting Thursday to work through the "real differences" that he says remain to get a deal done to raise the debt ceiling.

Appearing in the White House briefing room Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Obama said he hoped that "everybody's going to leave their ultimatums at the door" at the meeting and work toward a deal.

The president cited "reports" that some members of Congress "want to do just enough to make sure that America avoids defaulting on our debt in the short term, but then wants to kick the can down the road when it comes to solving the larger problem of our deficit."

"I don't share that view," he said, saying that lawmakers' tendency to avoid touch problems is what drives the American people "nuts" about Washington.

The comments appeared designed to beat back efforts to postpone a large-scale deal ahead of the Aug. 2 deadline set by the administration for raising the debt ceiling. Democrats are reportedly offering up tens of billions of dollars' worth of reductions in Medicaid and Medicare programsin exchange for concessions from the GOP.

"I believe that right now we've got a unique opportunity to do something big," Mr. Obama said Tuesday. He added "trillions in savings over the next decade" are necessary to start seriously addressing America's deficit and debt, and that "a balanced approach" is necessary to reach it.

A "balanced approach" means that in addition to spending cuts, Mr. Obama believes there should be tax increases to increase revenue - something Republicans have said are off the table. In addition to cutting spending in domestic, defense and entitlement programs, Mr. Obama called for lawmakers to "take on spending in the tax code," which he described as "spending on certain tax breaks and deductions for the wealthiest Americans."

In a statement following the president's comments, House Speaker John Boehner said, "The legislation the President has asked for - which would increase taxes on small businesses and destroy more American jobs - cannot pass the House, as I have stated repeatedly."

"The American people simply won't stand for it," said Boehner. "And their elected representatives in Congress won't vote for it. I'm happy to discuss these issues at the White House, but such discussions will be fruitless until the President recognizes economic and legislative reality."

Mr. Obama said Tuesday that both Democrats and Republicans need to leave their "comfort zones" to achieve "real compromise," adding, "I'm ready to do that. I believe there are enough people in each party that are willing to do that."

He said he hoped that at Thursday's meeting, all parties will eschew "political rhetoric" to find a way to do what is needed for the American people.

"This should not come down to the last second," he said. "...We know that it's going to require tough decisions. I think it's better for us to take those tough decisions sooner rather than later."

Administration officials say that the framework for a deal needs to be in place by roughly July 22in order to raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit by August 2. Crossing that deadline, the administration says, could throw the economy into turmoil and mean default to creditors, the shutdown of much of the government and the stoppage of Social Security and other payments.

Invited to Thursday's meeting are Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, Sen. Minority Leader McConnell, R-KY, Sen. John Kyl, R-AZ, House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-VA, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, and Congressman Steny Hoyer, D-MD.

All are expected to attend, though a Congressional aide said of Boehner, "He expects to go but questions the usefulness of the meeting."

Cantor spokesperson Laena Fallon said "Eric plans on going to the White House on Thursday and will tell the President directly that a tax increase simply will not pass the House."

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