BARACK Obama chose a new top White House aide overnight and challenged newly empowered Republicans to raise the US debt limit, as his foes vowed again to repeal his health care overhaul.
Obama picked William Daley, commerce secretary under Bill Clinton, as his new chief of staff, pursuing a staff shake-up that signals a potential change in course in response to his Democrats’ November 2 elections rout.
Daley, 62, is seen as a centrist powerbroker and has strong ties to the US business community, with which the president has had a rocky relationship, and has strongly backed efforts to expand international trade.
The move came one day after Republicans took over the House of Representatives and as US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner formally asked lawmakers to let the US government borrow more money – the opening shot in a political war over the massive and swelling US debt.
Geithner warned in a letter to senior members of Congress that failure to raise the debt ceiling from 14.29 trillion dollars could prompt a US default as soon as this March, with “catastrophic economic consequences.”
“Never in our history has Congress failed to increase the debt limit when necessary. Failure to raise the limit would precipitate a default by the United States,” and would “lead to the loss of millions of American jobs,” he said.
Republican US House Speaker John Boehner responded with wary support for raising the US debt limit, saying “America cannot default” on what it owes, but insisted on deep spending cuts as well.
“While America cannot default on its debt, we also cannot continue to borrow recklessly, dig ourselves deeper into this hole, and mortgage the future of our children and grandchildren,” Boehner said in a statement.
Geithner’s request, although expected, came earlier than many observers had anticipated, challenging Republicans who had hoped to put off that debate until after votes on slashing government spending to please their core supporters.
And the request was expected to get a chilly welcome from newly elected Republicans drawn from the ranks of archconservative “Tea Party” activists dead set on slashing spending and, in many cases, opposed to raising the debt limit.
Republicans were also struggling to beat back charges they were breaking their campaign promises for deep spending cuts, slashing the deficit, and bringing new transparency to the divided US Congress.
Top Republicans have abandoned their vow to slashing $US100 billion in government their first year in office, a figure drawn from their signal election campaign “Pledge to America.”
But they doubled down on plans to target Obama’s signature health care overhaul with a symbolic repeal vote next week – their victory in the House as certain as their defeat in the Democratic-held Senate.
Boehner charged the sweeping measure, designed to extend coverage to 31 million of the 36 million Americans who currently lack it, was “destroying jobs in our country” with onublican House Speaker John Boehner.
“I do not believe that repealing the job-killing health care law will increase the deficit.”
Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Robert Gates unveiled deeper cuts in US military programs than initially planned, citing the country’s “dire” fiscal situation.
“The Pentagon cannot presume to exempt itself from the scrutiny and pressure faced by the rest of our government” to scale back spending, Gates told a news conference.
Later Democrats joined Republican to vote 410-13 to slice five percent from House expenses, a $US35 million drop in the roughly $US3.6 trillion bucket of annual US government outlays.
And House members also read aloud from the US Constitution – but omitted sections later amended, such as the original language defining black slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of apportioning congressional seats.