WASHINGTON (AP) — In a blunt challenge to Republicans in Congress, President Barack Obama insisted Wednesday that eliminating selected tax breaks for oil companies and the super-wealthy must be part of any deficit reduction plan.
"That's not radical," he said at a White House news conference. He was quick to add that a bipartisan agreement is possible to cut deficits, raise the government's debt limit and avert a threatened financial crisis.
Republicans in Congress have been insistent in recent days that any deficit reduction be limited to spending cuts, including reductions in benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, and exclude additional revenues.
But Obama said both parties must be prepared to "take on their sacred cows" as part of the deficit-reduction negotiations.
In his opening remarks, the president called on lawmakers to renew a payroll tax cut that took effect on Jan. 1, identifying it as one of several measures lawmakers could approve to help create jobs. He also urged passage of trade agreements with Panama, South Korea and Colombia, and an overhaul of the nation's patent laws.
Obama's last previous full-fledged news conference was in March. In the intervening months, the economic recovery has slowed, the president has announced a plan to begin withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan and the administration has joined an international military coalition working to prevent the rout of rebels hoping to topple Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Above all loom the negotiations with Congress on deficit cuts demanded by Republicans as the price for supporting an increase in the nation's debt limit.
The president stepped to the podium not long after the International Monetary Fund publicly urged lawmakers to raise the debt limit, now $14.3 trillion, and warned that failure to do so could produce a spike in interest rates and "severe shock to the economy and world financial markets."
It recommended a long-term strategy for reducing red ink, warning that cutting deficits too quickly could slow the weak recovery of the U.S. economy.
The budget deficit is projected to reach a record $1.4 trillion for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
On Libya, the president defended American participation in the NATO military action, saying the U.S. had carried out a "narrow mission in an exemplary fashion" against a tyrant who was threating to "massacre his people."
"We have not seen a single U.S. casualty," he said. "There's no risk of additional escalation. This operation is limited in time and in scope."
Under pressure to call for gay marriages, the president said he has done more than all 43 of his presidential predecessors to advance the cause of rights for homosexual Americans.
He pointed to eliminating the ban on openly gay men and women serving in the military, a policy known as "don't ask, don't tell," as well as ordering the Justice Department not to defend a law that defines marriage as between a man and woman.