Politics

Deal now, spend more later, Obama urges

President Barack Obama is urging a debt-ceiling deal with Hill Republicans. Despite the government’s $1.5 trillion current deficit, $14 trillion federal debt and $100 trillion promise of future spending for retirees, the president is pushing Congress to spend still more.

“Let’s get this [deficit and debt] problem off the table … [and] with a solid fiscal situation, we will then be in a position to make the kind of investments that I think are going to be necessary to win the future,” he told reporters gathered for a White House press conference Monday morning.

The big-spending jobs agenda, the president said, could cost additional trillions of dollars. “We’ve been looking at the whole menu of steps that can be taken … [but] taking an approach that costs trillions of dollars is not an option. We don’t have that kind of money right now.”

White House officials believe independents will respond positively to Obama’s adopted role as the convener of a grand economic bargain in Washington. These days, he has the support of only 32 percent of independents, according to a June Gallup poll, far less than the 52 percent he had in November 2008.

The compromise, Obama has repeatedly said, would include new taxes. “If you don’t do the revenues, then to get the same amount of savings you’ve got to have more cuts, which means that it’s seniors, or it’s poor kids, or it’s medical researchers, or it’s our infrastructure that suffers,” he said.

New taxes would avoid such unfair cuts, he said, adding that “I think the American people agree with me on that.” (Obama plays debt ceiling chicken)

Even as he uses the debt-ceiling dispute to woo independents, he is also promising a new era of big government spending to fund new jobs. “I do think that if the country as a whole sees Washington act responsibly, compromises being made, the deficit and debt being dealt with for 10, 15, 20 years … it can have a positive impact in overall growth and employment … [but] we’re still going to have to have a strong jobs agenda,” he said.

His list of jobs programs includes the creation of a government-backed bank to fund construction projects launched by state and local governments.

“We’ve got the potential to create an infrastructure bank that could put construction workers to work right now, rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our vital infrastructure all across the country,” he said.

The government-banked bank “is relatively small,” he said, but may provide a foundation for a much bigger program. “Could we imagine a project where we’re rebuilding roads and bridges and ports and schools and broadband lines and smart grids, and taking all those construction workers and putting them to work right now?”

“I can imagine a very aggressive program like that that I think the American people would rally around and would be good for the economy not just next year or the year after, but for the next 20 or 30 years,” he said.

Obama also suggested that he might want to continue some elements of the 2009 stimulus. The $787 billion law provided a flood of money to fund the employees of state and local governments. (Boehner: It takes two to tango)

But, he said, “as we’ve seen that federal support for states diminish, you’ve seen the biggest job losses in the public sector [such as] teachers, police officers, firefighters losing their jobs … [so] my strong preference would be for us to figure out ways that we can continue to provide help across the board.”