President Obama on Friday sought to frame the next fiscal fight ahead of a congressional budget conference committee, downplaying GOP concerns about the deficit and pushing instead for investments he says will bolster the middle class.
During a visit to Brooklyn, N.Y., Obama toured Pathways in Technology Early College High School, a public school partnership between IBM and the City University of New York, and pressed for more spending on education. Obama stressed the importance of preparing the country's young people for careers in math and science.
“This country should be doing everything in our power to give more kids the chance to go to schools just like this one,” said Obama. “We should be doing everything we can to keep families from falling into poverty and build more ladders of opportunity to help people who are willing to work hard climb out of poverty.”
The president tied his visit to the innovative high school to his budget priorities and broadcast a message to Republicans that further spending cuts will hurt middle-class families and the working poor and would fail to boost the economy or create jobs.
“This obsession with cutting just for the sake of cutting hasn't helped our economy grow — it's held us back,” he said.
“Our deficits are getting smaller. They've been cut in half since I took office, all right?” said Obama. “ So that gives us room to fix longer-term debt problems without sticking it to your generation. We don't have to choose between growth and fiscal responsibility; we've got to do both.”
Republicans argue that the $17 trillion federal debt — now at 73 percent of the economy's annual output — is stifling growth and requires a massive overhaul of entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare.
The debt jumped more than $300 billion after the federal government was able to borrow money again under the deal Obama and Congress struck last week.
Usually Congress sets a borrowing limit, or debt ceiling, that limits the total amount the government can be in the red. But under the terms of last week's deal, Congress set a deadline instead of a dollar cap, meaning the debt can rise as much as Obama and Congress allow it to until the Feb. 7 deadline.
Looking at the rate of increase over the past five months, the debt will likely increase to as much as $700 billion, experts say.
Obama's comments come ahead of next week's House-Senate budget conference to begin Oct. 30, and follow a fiscal fight that led to a 16-day government shutdown and the U.S. coming within hours of hitting its borrowing limit and defaulting on its debt.
The president called Democratic leaders earlier Friday to urge them to take a strong stance in negotiations with Republicans and back policies that bolster the economy and middle-class jobs.
The deal ending the standoff will fund the government until Jan. 15, raises the debt limit until Feb. 7 and calls on the budget committee to report by mid-December.
Both sides remain far apart on their budget priorities and are unlikely to reach a grand bargain that will tackle entitlement spending and solve the country's long-term fiscal woes.
The budgets passed by the House and Senate earlier this year are $90 billion apart, and both parties deeply disagree on how to approach the next round of sequester cuts set to take place in January.
Meghashyam Mali contributed to this report.