CHICAGO (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said he challenged Republicans to try to repeal his landmark healthcare reform in private budget talks last week, taunting his opponents with a question: “You think we’re stupid?”
In one of three political fund-raisers for his re-election campaign on Thursday night, Obama spoke candidly to supporters about the closed-door White House conversations that led to a deal that barely avoided a shutdown of the government.
He said he warned Republicans he would veto any legislation passed by Congress that sought to defund his 2010 healthcare overhaul. Republicans, who took control of the House of Representatives later that year, had vowed to kill the law.
A two-thirds majority of Congress is required to override a presidential veto.
“If you think you can overturn my veto, try it,'” Obama said in describing an exchange with Republicans. He said he was told by a staffer for House Speaker John Boehner that Republicans wanted a concession on the healthcare issue in the budget talks.
Obama said he firmly rejected the attempts to repeal parts of the healthcare law, his signature domestic accomplishment, in the budget bill.
“And I said to them, let me tell you something: ‘I spent a year and a half getting healthcare passed. I had to take that issue across the country and I paid significant political costs to get it done,” he said.
“The notion that I‘m going to let you guys undo that in a six-month spending bill?’ I said, ‘You want to repeal healthcare? Go at it. We’ll have that debate. You’re not going to be able to do that by nickel-and-diming me in the budget. You think we’re stupid?'”
His remarks in Chicago came after the White House press pool had been escorted from the room. Unbeknownst to Obama, the comments were accidentally piped back to the White House and recorded by CBS News and ABC News.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama was “not at all” embarrassed that the remarks were made public.
“OVERTURN MY VETO”
Obama predicted the same strategy from Republicans would reappear in negotiations over raising the U.S. debt limit.
“This is going to be the strategy going forward -- trying to do things they can do legislatively under the guise of cutting spending,” he said.
Obama, who publicly praised Republicans after a budget deal was reached last Friday, also spoke harshly of their efforts to use the budget legislation to defund the Planned Parenthood family planning group because it also provided abortions.
Obama said he told Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell that they should not try to “sneak this through.”
“‘You guys want to have this debate? We’re happy to have that debate. We will have the debate on the floor of the Senate or the floor of the House. Put it in a separate bill. We’ll call it up. And if you think you can overturn my veto, try it,'” he said.
Asked for reaction, Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said: “The speaker believes his private conversations with the president should remain private. Obviously, if the president chooses to share a self-serving version with campaign donors, that is his prerogative.”
When asked for reaction, McConnell’s office said McConnell was not present at that meeting.
Obama also had tough words for Republican Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee. Ryan has offered a deficit-cutting plan that would sharply reduce government spending and has drawn Obama’s ire.
“This is the same guy that voted for two wars that were unpaid for, voted for the Bush tax cuts that were unpaid for, voted for the prescription drug bill that cost as much as my healthcare bill -- but wasn’t paid for. So it’s not on the level. And we’ve got to keep on you know, keep on shining a light on that,” he said.