By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Newspapers
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – President Barack Obama said Friday he’s still pushing for a major deficit reduction package that would include tax hikes as well as spending cuts.
“We can't just close our deficit with spending cuts alone,” Obama said, taking his case to a friendly crowd at a Town Hall meeting at the University of Maryland. Cuts only, he said, would slow an already limping economy by reducing aid to the unemployed, students and the elderly.
“That doesn't make any sense. It's not fair,” he said. “And that's why I've said, if we're going to reduce our deficit, then the wealthiest Americans and the biggest corporations should do their part, as well.”
The event fell on a day the administration had earlier identified as a deadline to reach a deal in order to get a package through Congress in time to avoid a government default on Aug. 2.
But negotiators remain deadlocked and Obama said they’re still working it.
“I'm willing to sign a plan that includes tough choices I would not normally make, and there are a lot of Democrats and Republicans in Congress who I believe are willing to do the same thing,” he said.
He laid the stalemate at the feet of the Republican-led House of Represenatives which has been loathe to consider proposals that include tax breaks.
“The only people we have left to convince are some folks in the House of Representatives. We're going to keep on working on that,” Obama said, adding, “In 2010 Americans chose a divided government. But they didn't choose a dysfunctional government.”
The event was Obama’s first out of the White House in three weeks and the jacketless president admitted to feeling a “little cooped up” in the White House, where he has huddled with congressional leaders for weeks in meetings that have yielded little progress.
“Don't get me wrong,” Obama told the crowd to laughter. “There's nothing I enjoy more than sitting hour after hour, day after day, debating the fine points of the federal budget with members of Congress.”
There were no hardball questions from the crowd – though one man asked him why he was pushing for big spending cuts now when voters in 2012 could “get rid of these hooligans in the House and we might actually have a reasonable settlement.”
But Obama sought to answer his critics on the left as well, he said, who have suggested that by compromising he’s not leading.
“How many people are married?” he asked the crowd. “Let me just tell you, you’d better get used to compromise. All of us have our particular views, but we live in societies, we live in communities. That means we never get our way 100 percent of the time.”
One student who said he and his brother have cerebral palsy asked Obama to protect services for people with disabilties when he’s negotiating with Republicans.
“I know that's hard, because Mr. McConnell has said he wants to make you a one-term president,” the man said. “please don't leave us holding the bag.