HONOLULU — Sounding increasingly frustrated as a deadline for action approaches, President Barack Obama accused members of a special congressional deficit-reduction panel of refusing to budge from rigid positions and find a solution to the country's yawning deficit.
And with Republicans unwilling to cooperate on his jobs bill, Obama said it might take a new Congress to get economic growth package done.
"It feels as if people continue to try to stick with their rigid positions rather than solve the problem," Obama said of the 12 members of the bipartisan deficit "supercommittee," spreading criticism among Republicans and Democrats alike, at a wide-ranging news conference Sunday night, capping an economic summit in his home state of Hawaii.
"My hope is that over the next several days, the congressional leadership on the supercommittee go ahead and bite the bullet and do what needs to be done, because the math won't change. There's no magic formula," Obama said. "There are no magic beans that you can toss on the ground and suddenly a bunch of money grows on trees. We got to just go ahead and do the responsible thing."
Obama spoke as lawmakers on the specially created panel appeared deadlocked, with a Nov. 23 deadline fast approaching to find more than $1 trillion in deficit cuts or see harsh spending cuts triggered for a range of federal programs including the Pentagon. The president rejected the idea of softening the triggering mechanism, as some have proposed, though he stopped short of threatening to veto such a move.
"I still hold out the prospect that there's going to be a light-bulb moment where everybody says 'Ah-ha! Here's what we've got to do," said Obama. He repeated his call for a "balanced approach" that would raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations while also making cuts in entitlement programs and elsewhere. Republicans on the committee would couple any revenue increases with lowering tax rates in a way the White House says would unduly benefit the wealthy.
Obama also defended his policies on Iran, struck back at criticism from the GOP presidential field, and addressed the fate of his stalled jobs bill as Washington politics followed him to Hawaii, where he's on the first part of a nine-day trip aimed at building ties and finding economic opportunities in the fast-growing Asia Pacific. Obama, who played host to the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit here, leaves Tuesday for Australia before ending his trip in Indonesia.
Along the way, he's not neglecting his re-election campaign: the president was scheduled to raise money Monday at a campaign event at the Aulani Disney Resort in Kapolei, Hawaii. Ticket prices for the fundraising brunch started at $1,000 per person.
Once he returns to Washington Nov. 20, the president will grapple once again with Republicans who've agreed to only one sliver so far of his $447 billion jobs package of tax credits and public works spending — a measure passed by the Senate last week to boost hiring of jobless veterans. But Obama contended Sunday that any failure of the jobs package would hurt Republicans more than him, and he said he'd continue promoting it even if it takes him past next year's elections.
"I'm going to keep on pushing," Obama said. "My expectation is that we will get some of it done now, and I'll keep on pushing until we get all of it done. And that may take me all the way to November to get it all done. And it may take a new Congress to get it all done."
Obama said he hoped Republicans would "recognize that doing nothing is not an option ... And that should be their hope, too, because if they don't, I think we'll have a different set of leaders in Congress."
With jobs at the top of the agenda for voters heading into the 2012 presidential election, Obama's sought to connect his travels to the domestic economy, and he renewed the point at the news conference held outdoors Sunday evening against a spectacular Hawaii backdrop of palm trees and rolling waves.
"No region will do more to shape our long-term economic future than the Asia Pacific region," Obama said.
Obama also defended his efforts to halt the Iranian nuclear threat, saying that the economic sanctions against the country have had "enormous bite," and that he is united with Russian and Chinese leaders in ensuring Iran does not develop an atomic weapon and unleash an arms race across the Middle East.
Republican presidential contenders, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, have assailed Obama for not doing more to keep Iran from getting nuclear weaponry. Said Obama: "Is this an easy issue? No. Anyone who claims it is is either politicking or doesn't know what they're talking about."