ABC News’ Mary Bruce ( @marykbruce) Reports:
In some of his harshest language to date in the fight over the deficit, President Obama warned today that the debt ceiling should not be “used as a gun” against Americans to extract tax breaks for the wealthy.
Speaking at the Twitter Town Hall at the White House today, the president said Congress “shouldn’t be toying” with the debt ceiling and cautioned against risking the financial health of the country in order to protect the interests of the super wealthy.
“Never in our history has the United States defaulted on its debt. The debt ceiling should not be something that is used as a gun against the heads of the American people to extract tax breaks for corporate jet owners, for oil and gas companies that are making billions of dollars because the price of gasoline has gone up so high. I mean, I'm happy to have those debates. I think the American people are on my side on this,” Obama said.
The president was adamant that when it comes to fixing the economy and solving the deficit problem “we should go with what works,” and that’s a tax increase on the wealthy.
“If the wealthiest among us -- and I include myself in this category -- are willing to give up a little bit more, then we can solve this problem. It does not take a lot… when people say, you know, "job-killing tax increases, that's what Obama's proposing," we're not going to,” he said. “You're entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. And the facts are that a modest increase for wealthy individuals is not shown to have an adverse impact on job growth.”
“We can test the two theories. You had what happened during the '90s. Right? Taxes for wealthy individuals were somewhat higher, businesses boomed, the economy boomed, great job growth; and then the 2000s, when taxes were cut on wealthy individuals, jobs didn't grow as fast, businesses didn't grow as fast. I mean, it's not like we haven't tried what these other folks are pitching. It didn't work. And we should go with what works,” he said.
The president stressed that a balanced approach is necessary to reach an agreement to raise the country’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by August 2 nd and that both sides will have to give a little.
“What I'm hoping to see over the next couple of weeks is people put their dogmas aside, their sacred cows aside, they come together and they say, here's a sensible approach that reduces our deficit, make sure that government's spending within its means, but also continues to make investments in education, in clean energy and basic research that are going to preserve our competitive advantage going forward,” he said.
The president also responded to Republican criticism about the slow pace of economic recovery, specifically, a tweet from Speaker Boehner asking “where are the jobs?”
“John's the Speaker of the House, he's a Republican, and so this is a slightly skewed question. But what he's right about is that we have not seen fast enough job growth relative to the need,” Obama conceded.
Despite the nation’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate, the president touted that his administration has created 2 million jobs in the private sector over the past 15 months, and highlighted several initiatives including, the payroll tax that was passed in December and other tax cuts to small businesses.
“We've been able to cooperate with the Republicans on a range of these issues. There are some areas where the Republicans have been more resistant in cooperating, even though I think most objective observers think it's the right thing to do,” he said. “But I'm just going to keep on trying. And eventually, I'm sure the Speaker will see the light.”
The president did admit that he’s made a few mistakes in handling the recession. “I think people may not have been prepared for how long this was going to take and why we were going to have to make some very difficult decisions and choices… and I take responsibility for that because, you know, setting people's expectations is part of how you end up being able to respond well,” Obama said.
During the roughly hour-long event the president responded to 24 tweets, answering 17 questions and reacting to seven responses to his comments on issues ranging from welfare and immigration, to housing and education.
The president, who just started tweeting himself a few weeks ago, started off the event by tweeting his own question. “In order to reduce the deficit,what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep – bo,” Obama posted on the @whitehouse Twitter feed, which currently has over 2.25 million followers.
While questions from around the country were asked in Twitter’s 140-character limit, the president was given ample time to answer his questions orally. “I know, Twitter, I'm supposed to be short,” the president joked at one point, before continuing on with a lengthy answer about education.
The event also brought out a few lighter moments from the president. Obama poked fun at @RenegadeNerd’s profile picture, saying “that picture captures it all there.” He also ribbed the Speaker, noting “John obviously needs to work on his typing skills.”