Obama to GOP: Let's End the "Political Steel Cage Match"

Updated at 2:10 p.m. ET

Speaking at a retreat for House Republicans on Friday, President Obama defended his economic recovery proposals and called on Republicans to work with him to turn around the economy and implement other reforms in areas like health care.

The American people are tired of partisanship, Mr. Obama said at the Baltimore retreat, particularly in the current economic climate.

"I'm not a pundit, I'm just a president," he said, "but I don't believe the American people want us to focus on our job security, they want us to focus on their job security."

He added, "They didn't send us to Washington to fight each other in some sort of political steel cage match."

Republicans, who questioned the president after he made his initial comments, expressed skepticism about the economic proposals the president recently put forward, including new tax credits for companies hiring new employees, a spending freeze and fees on financial institutions. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) asked Mr. Obama why his proposed three-year federal spending freeze could not start right away.

Mr. Obama said starting the discretionary freeze this year would have a "de-stimulative effect."

"That would be a mistake when the economy has not entirely taken off," he said.

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) questioned why Mr. Obama wanted to give tax credits to businesses for hiring new workers -- a proposal last put forward by former President Jimmy Carter, Pence said -- instead of taking up Republican ideas like an across-the-board tax cuts.

The president said he would likely use some Republican ideas for job creation but that the jobs tax credit is touted by many economists as the most cost-effective way to accelerate new hiring.

"I have looked at every idea out there at accelerating job growth," he said.

He added he would not likely agree to tax cuts for billionaires like Warren Buffet. Yet if Republicans want more tax cuts as well as a balanced budget, he said, "I'm going to want to take a look at your math."

"There's been a tendency for some inconsistent statements," he said.

Obama Spars With Harshest Critics in GOP
GOP Gives Obama Q&A Mixed Reviews

Mr. Obama also chided Republicans for their opposition to his $787 billion stimulus package implemented last year.

"Let's face it," he said, "some of you have been at the ribbon cuttings for some of these important projects in your communities."

New evidence strong economic growth "didn't happen by accident," Mr. Obama said.

The president also blasted the GOP for politicizing health care reform.

The Democrats' health care plan has been framed as "some Bolshevik plot," Mr. Obama said, while in reality, he said it is "pretty centrist."

"If you look at the facts of this bill, most independent observers would say this is what many Republicans... proposed to Bill Clinton when he was doing his debate."

He tallied off Republican ideas that were incorporated into the health care legislation, such as allowing insurance companies to sell policies across state lines.

That didn't stop Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) from saying the administration has been "busy ignoring for 12 months" GOP ideas for health care. His comment received a round of applause from other Republicans.

While criticizing Republicans for scoring political points at the expense of good policy, Mr. Obama pointed to areas of agreement between Democrats and Republicans, such as the troop buildup in Afghanistan, increasing the Veterans Administration's budget and reforming defense contracting.

"I think your constituents would want to know... you and I have actually worked together on a number of occasions," he said. "It is possible."

Mr. Obama said he wanted to take questions at the Republican retreat because, "I want us to have a constructive debate."

He joked, "You know what they say, keep your friends close but visit the Republican caucus every few months."