Obama: I’ve been left at the altar

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama’s negotiating strategy on the debt ceiling has failed, leaving him at the White House podium on Friday at 6:30 p.m. blaming Republicans and complaining, “I’ve been left at the altar.”

A visibly angry Obama criticized Republicans’ opposition to tax increases, saying that was the reason for the breakdown.

Although both sides came close on proposed spending cuts, “there has been a consistency on our part … [that] there has to be some balance in the process.” Obama and his deputies have long used “balance” as a euphemism for tax increases.

Spending cuts in the draft plan developed by Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner were similar to those suggested in the still vague “Gang of Six” plan developed by Democrat and Republican senators, he said. The Gang of Six plan called for spending cuts of perhaps $2 trillion and tax hikes of between $1 and $3 trillion, according to various sources.

Negotiations broke down after Boehner refused to agree to raise taxes. “The difference [between Obama and the GOP] was that we didn’t put all the burden on the people who are least able to protect themselves,” Obama said.

In his comments to reporters in the White House press room, the president backed away from his earlier demands for a tax increase, saying that he was willing to accept a deal that “is not as balanced as I would wish it to be.”

He also suggested that he would sign a deal that would not cut spending or raise taxes. “I will sign an extension that goes to 2013, and make a case to the American people that we should go out there and solve this problem.”

Obama blamed Republicans for the breakdown and defended House and Senate Democrats. “This is not a situation where it was the usual food fight between Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “A lot of Democrats stepped up in ways that were not advantageous politically … we [Democrats] have shown ourselves willing to do the tough stuff.”

In contrast, he said, Bohner’s GOP caucus includes legislators “that actually think a default would be okay … [Republicans] are going to have to explain to me how we are going to avoid default.”

Republican House leaders have already drafted a long-term spending plan and the “Cut, Cap and Balance” plan. On Friday, however, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid led a party-line vote in the Senate against the Cut, Cap and Balance plan, and then announced that the Senate would close for the weekend.

Senate Democrats have not drafted any proposal to extend the debt ceiling, in part because any such plan would threaten Democratic Senators who face tough reelection campaigns in 2012. The Democrats hold only a four-seat majority in the Senate.

House Democrats, similarly, have not drafted a plan of their own.

The president declined to explain what measures he proposed to raise the debt ceiling. Within two minutes of the press event’s conclusion, GOP critics tweeted out calls for Obama to describe his plan in detail.

Throughout the negotiations, Obama has refused to make any public proposals. Instead, he has tried to draft a plan in closed-door negotiations that congressional leaders would then push through the House and Senate.

However, Obama insisted several times during the conference that he had tried to lead Washington through the debt-ceiling debate. “If you want to be a leader, you’ve got to lead,” he said, just as he walked away from the podium and reporters’ questions.

He said he had summoned the four top legislators in the House and Senate to the White House for another round of negotiations Saturday. “They will come down here at 11 a.m. tomorrow [and] I expect them to have an answer,” he declared.