In a blistering rebuke of Republicans, President Obama on Wednesday pressed lawmakers to accept tax increases as part of a deal to cut the federal budget deficit and avoid a crippling government default. "Let's get it done," Obama challenged, chiding Congress for frequent absences from Washington.
Senators from Obama's own Democratic Party quickly said they would consider canceling next week's July 4 recess to work on a possible agreement, and as the day went on, senators said they assumed they would stay.
In a White House news conference, Obama offered a fresh wrinkle to try to give the economy and pessimistic voters a lift, calling on Congress to pass a one-year extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut that employees got this year. But he used most of the hourlong session to try to sway public opinion his way on the debt debate that has been consuming Washington.
Obama accused Republicans of intransigence over tax hikes, comparing their leaders to procrastinating children and painting them as putting millionaires, oil companies and owners of corporate jets ahead of needy students.
One Democratic official said that in talks to date, the Obama administration was seeking roughly $400 billion in higher tax revenue over the next decade.
Responding quickly to the news conference, the Republican House Speaker, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, shot back that the president was ignoring reality.
"His administration has been burying our kids and grandkids in new debt, and offered no plan to rein in spending," Boehner said as the day's events seemed only to entrench both sides. "The president is sorely mistaken if he believes a bill to raise the debt ceiling and raise taxes would pass the House. The votes simply aren't there."
Obama insisted he wouldn't support a deal to cut the deficit unless it includes higher tax revenue, not just spending cuts. Republicans have refused to consider that. The stalemate threatens to derail an extension of the nation's $14.3 trillion debt limit, which in turn could lead the government into an unprecedented default.
"They need to do their job," Obama said of Republicans. "Now's the time to go ahead and make the tough choices."
Professing optimism -- but with a bite -- the president said, "Call me naive, but my expectation is that leaders are going to lead."
Obama's aggressive response came with the country souring on the recovery, the Republican presidential candidates taking aim at his economic record and GOP leaders in Congress challenging him to show more leadership in the debt stalks. His re-election hinges on the economy, and Obama is trying to restore a sense of public confidence.
The Treasury Department says the government is on pace to begin failing to pay its bills by Aug. 2 unless Congress votes to allow the limit on federal debt to rise.
Obama declared that is a "hard deadline" and warned that waiting too long could scare capital markets and prompt investors to flee. Here, too, he tried to put heat on Congress by saying lawmakers should cancel any plans to take days off in July if they can't make substantial progress by the end of this week.
Democratic leaders in the Senate met later with Obama at the White House and sent word they were considering canceling next week's scheduled recess.
"I think we are going to be here" next week, said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D. "No announcement has been made, but to me it's pretty clear."
Before that, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said that if the Democrats keep the Senate schedule, "they are running from this debate." And Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said, "The fact that anyone would even consider recessing at this point in time is absurd."
The House, under Republican control, has been in recess this week but is to return Tuesday. Democrats hold a majority in the Senate.
Obama said that even his daughters, Malia, 12, and Sasha, 10, get their homework done ahead of deadline. "Congress can do the same thing," the president said. "If you know you've got to do something, just do it." The president sought to reframe the debt debate in terms people would care about, accusing Republicans of protecting tax breaks for owners of corporate jets on the backs of college students who would lose their federal aid -- even though there is no direct relationship between that tax provision and any particular budget cut. He spoke of eliminating tax cuts that favor the oil companies and the rich.
Obama began the news conference not long after the International Monetary Fund publicly urged lawmakers to raise the U.S. 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."