President Barack Obama pushed congressional leaders for the largest possible deficit-reduction deal on Monday that would involve changes to popular entitlement programs, asking: If not now, when?
Obama told a White House news conference he would meet every single day with top U.S. lawmakers until an agreement is sealed to avoid defaulting on the national debt with the clock ticking to an August 2 deadline.
He planned talks at 2 p.m. EDT on Monday with them to try again to break a stalemate over reducing the country's $1.4 trillion deficit and clear the way for a vote to increase the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.
The Treasury Department has warned that it will run out of money to cover the country's bills if Congress does not raise the debt limit by August 2. Failure to do so could push the United States back into recession, send shock waves through global markets and threaten the dollar's reserve status.
Obama is locked in a politically charged debate with House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top U.S. Republican, over a large deal that Obama wants, a $4 trillion, 10-year deficit reduction proposal.
The deal would increase taxes -- to the chagrin of Republicans -- and reform sacred-cow entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid and cut government spending, which concerns Democrats.
Obama said his message to both sides in the close-door talks is: If not now, when?
We might as well do it now -- pull off the band-aid, eat our peas, he said.
It was unclear whether Obama would be able to persuade Republicans to agree to a larger deal after Boehner balked over the weekend, meaning the two sides may have to negotiate a smaller, $2 trillion deal.
I do not see a path to a deal if they don't budge, period, he said.
Negotiators will have to confront a divide over taxes that has prevented them from reaching a deal so far. Democrats say new tax revenues need to be part of the equation, while Republicans say they won't back any increase in taxes.
Obama said under the proposal taxes would not go up immediately, but in later years.
(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Patricia Zengerle, Kim Dixon in Washington and Ryan Vlastelica in New York)