In the final press conference of his first term, President Barack Obama warned he would not negotiate with Republicans who he said were holding “a gun at the head of the American people” over raising the country’s debt ceiling.Obama’s near hour-long news conference focused heavily on two topics: the looming need to raise the country’s borrowing limit and the White House’s plan to curb the nation’s rash of gun violence.
Throughout his press conference, Obama urged Congress to raise the debt ceiling without any fanfare. It came on a morning when Politico reported that some House Republicans are willing to test the limits of defaulting on the nation’s debt in order to force spending cuts from Obama.
Sometimes, Obama did that more colorfully than others.
“I’m happy to have that conversation,” Obama said of future deficit-reduction talks. “What I will not do is have that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people.”
Later, he compared it to a “dine-and-dash” situation at a restaurant.
Obama said not raising the debt ceiling would be a “self-inflicting wound on the economy,” delaying payments to Social Security beneficiaries and veterans.
“I want to be clear about this,” he said. “Raising the debt ceiling … simply allows the country to pay for spending Congress has already committed to. The debt ceiling is not a question of authorizing more spending.
“The full faith and credit of the United States economy is not a bargaining chip,” Obama added. “The financial well being of the American people is not leverage to be used. To even entertain the idea of this happening, of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It is absurd.”
Signaling another revenue fight, Obama said that future deficit-reduction must be done in a “balanced” way with a mix of tax revenue and spending cuts. He noted that he was open to “modest adjustments to programs like Medicare.”
“The issue here is whether or not America pays its bills. We are not a deadbeat nation. … There’s a very simple solution to this. Congress authorizes us to pay our bills.”
The White House has ruled out getting involved in raising the debt ceiling, ruling out the options of minting a trillion-dollar platinum coin and the 14th Amendment as possible work-around solutions if Republicans refuse to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.
Obama stressed that raising the ceiling was Congress’ responsibility — saying twice that “we are not a deadbeat nation” that should be arguing about whether to pay its bills.
“There are no magic tricks here. There are no loopholes. There are no easy outs. … The consequences of us not paying our bills would be disastrous,” Obama said.
Obama blamed Republican skittishness on raising the debt ceiling on various “suspicions” — he suspected himself that their insistence on spending cuts was not about debt reduction alone.
“It seems as though what is motivating this from the House Republicans is more than debt reduction,” Obama said. “They have a vision about what government should and should not do. They are suspicious about government policy commitment to make sure that seniors have decent health care as they grow older. They have suspicions about Social Security. They have suspicions about whether government should make sure that kids in poverty are getting enough to eat or whether we should be spending money on medical research.”
In response, House Speaker John Boehner challenged Obama to come up with “meaningful action” to reduce future spending.
“The American people do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending at the same time,” Boehner said in a statement.
“The consequences of failing to increase the debt ceiling are real, but so too are the consequences of allowing our spending problem to go unresolved. Without meaningful action, the debt will continue to act as an anchor on our economy, costing American jobs and endangering our children’s future. The House will do its job and pass responsible legislation that controls spending, meets our nation’s obligations and keeps the government running, and we will insist that the Democratic majority in Washington do the same.”
In his press conference, Obama also touched on the White House’s planned steps to combat the nation’s recent rash of gun violence. Vice President Joe Biden is expected to deliver his recommendations on Tuesday, and Obama said he would present the recommendations sometime this week.
“My starting point is not to worry about the politics, my starting point is to think about what works, what makes sense,” he said. He hinted that a renewed assault weapons ban and limits on high-capacity magazines are things that continue to “make sense.”
“Will all of them get through this Congress? I don’t know. … If there is a step we can take that will save even one child from what happened in Newtown, we should take that step,” Obama said. He added that he could “accomplish” some measures through “executive action,” specifying it was related to “how we gather data.”
He also went after the pro-gun lobby for “ginning up fear” of gun-grabbing in the wake of the White House’s planned proposals.
“It’s unfortunate. But that’s the case,” Obama said.
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