Obama continues push for large deal on debt limit
Includes reporting from John Fritze and Childs Walker.
President Barack Obama, speaking to students at the University of Maryland on Friday, reiterated his desire for a broad agreement to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt limit, even as the latest attempt at a "grand plan" took fire from all sides and the clock began to run out.
In an hour long town hall on the College Park campus, Obama repeated calls for a "balanced approach," arguing that the only fair path forward is for wealthy Americans to pay more in taxes if cuts are made to safety net programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Lawmakers have until Aug. 2 to raise the debt ceiling or risk a default of U.S. obligations.
"This isn't about punishing wealth," the president told the crowd at Ritchie Coliseum. "This is about asking the people who have benefited the most during the past decade to share in the sacrifices. We can pass a balanced plan like this. It's not going to make everyone happy."
Obama, who has been meeting for weeks with congressional leaders at the White House, said he is still working to convince House Republicans of that vision. As he spoke, the Democratic-led Senate, as expected, failed to advance a conservative GOP plan that would have made raising the debt ceiling contingent on passing a constitutional amendment to require Congress to balance future budgets.
Senate leaders also announced that the chamber would not work through the weekend, as had been planned.
"In 2010, Americans chose a divided government," Obama said, "but they didn't chose a dysfunctional government."
Friday's town hall, in which Obama took questions from students and faculty, marks his fourth visit to the campus -- his second as president. He came to College Park in 2009, during the battle over health care, campaigned at the school for president in 2008 and stumped for then-Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin's Senate bid in 2006.
All three of those efforts were ultimately successful.
In a statement, the Republican National Committee argued that Obama and his advisors are "vastly out of touch with reality."
"Stuck in their Washington bubble, Team Obama believes the economy has improved under his watch despite losing 2.5 million jobs and adding 3.7 trillion to the debt," RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said.
Though his opening remarks focused on the debt issue, Obama took a range of questions from students, including on the nation's drug policy and whether he had any regrets since taking office.
Aaron Kaufman, a University of Maryland senior with cerebral palsy, implored the president to protect disability funding in negotiations with Congress.
After the speech, Kaufman said he was reassured by Obama’s response. “I could see in the president’s face that he connected with the question,” Kaufman said. “He made the argument that I wanted him to make, which is that we can’t be pennywise and pound foolish.”
Kaufman, a Silver Spring native, shook the president’s hand after the speech and said the president thanked him for spotlighting the needs of the disabled.
“I really felt that he got it,” Kaufman said. “It’s not appropriate to balance the budget on the backs of the disabled. And I thought it was important for him to see the human face of it as he approaches the deadline on the debt ceiling.”
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Attorney General Douglas Gansler also attended the event.
"People don't expect Congress always to agree but on fundamental responsibilities, people do expect agreement," said O'Malley, who has increasingly engaged in the debate, including with an address to Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week. "I think the president's instinct to make this case in public is the right one."
Students and other members of the public had camped out overnight for tickets for the event. On Friday, in an effort to beat the sweltering weather, the university set up portable air-conditioners to cool the crowd that lined up outside on the way into Ritchie.
“I liked that he spoke to us directly,” said Della Cheremoshnyk, a rising sophomore at Baltimore’s Carver Vocational-Technical High School. “He made me feel more assured.”
“I am a little worried about how things are going to be when I get out of college,” said Erica Lamberson, a Washington resident who will begin her freshman year at Emory University next month. “He gave me some hope. That’s what he’s good at.”