Obama's press conference: Why can't Congress be as responsible as his daughters?

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June 29 2011 6:52 PM

No TV Until You're Done

Obama asks Congress to work on the budget the way his daughters work on their homework.

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The president's modest aims match what his advisers say privately *: The big fight over tax increases is coming later, after the debt limit agreement is reached. That's what the presidential campaign will be about. He can't risk taking that stand now. If the economy craters as a result, it's the president, not congressional Republicans, who will pay the steeper price. That's why he framed this moment in terms of the economy, not philosophy or equity. "What we need to do is restore business confidence and the confidence of the American people that we are on track."

Plus, Obama needs the deal to establish his credentials as someone who can cut spending. After the debt limit debate is over, and every day until Election Day, he can return to the more heated rhetoric about the philosophical differences with Republicans who refuse to increase tax rates for the most well-off.

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While they are enjoying their Champagne, the president's critics can have a justified grouse about his tactics at the news conference. Obama said Republican leaders were making outlandish statements in order to play to the crowd and cable-news audiences. Meanwhile, he was doing a version of the same, framing Republicans as so obsessed with protecting corporate jet owners that they were willing to send the government into default. "If everyone is willing to take on sacred cows and do tough things to reach the goal of deficit reduction, I think it would be hard for Republicans to say [that] tax breaks for corporate jets is sufficiently important that we're not willing to get a deal done."

Which is worse? This kind of game playing, or the games House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was playing when he abandoned the debt limit talks last week? Discuss this at your July 4th parties.

The president's press conference ended with another familiar tactic from the president. He called on Congress to stay in town until they came to an agreement. What was different this time was that instead of calling for adult behavior, he compared Congress unfavorably to his own children. Sasha and Malia are able to get their homework done before deadline, he said. But Congress only seems to be able to meet its vacation deadlines. "They're in one week, they're out one week, and then they're saying, 'Obama's got to step in,' " he said. Addressing Congress, he added: "You need to be here. I've been here. I've been doing Afghanistan and Bin Laden and the Greek crisis. … You stay here. Let's get it done."

The threat of a government default has so far not quickened the pace of negotiations. Maybe what they need is the threat of a delayed summer vacation.

Correction, June 30, 2011:The article originally said advisers say this publicly. The author meant to write privately since it was conveyed in not-for-attribution conversation and to his knowledge has not been said in public. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

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