Obama warns of 'disaster' if House GOP doesn't raise debt ceiling

In the final press conference of his first term, President Obama called on House Republicans to pay the bills Congress has already racked up. He also reiterated that he will not negotiate over the debt ceiling.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Obama gestures as he answers questions from members of the media during a press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday.

President Obama warned congressional Republicans Monday that a failure to raise the federal debt ceiling in the next several weeks would spell “disaster” for the US and global economies. And he reiterated his position that he will not negotiate over the debt ceiling.

“These are bills that have already been racked up, and we need to pay them,” Mr. Obama said in the last presidential press conference of his first term. “So while I'm willing to compromise and find common ground over how to reduce our deficits, America cannot afford another debate with this Congress about whether or not they should pay the bills they've already racked up.”

Obama also bemoaned the pattern of the past two years, in which the government lurches “from crisis to crisis.”

Without congressional action, the federal government will reach the limit of its borrowing authority as soon as Feb. 15. If that happens, Obama warned, a host of government functions will be suspended, including the sending of Social Security payments, veterans’ benefits, and paychecks to federal workers, such as US troops, food inspectors, and air-traffic controllers.

“Investors around the world will ask if the United States of America is in fact a safe bet,” Obama said, speaking in the East Room of the White House. “Markets could go haywire.”

Obama was, in effect, laying the political groundwork to blame congressional Republicans if the US again flirts with defaulting on its debt, as it did in the summer of 2011. That episode led to a downgrading of America’s AAA credit rating and, the president said Monday, hurt job creation.

Obama also suggested repeatedly that his recent reelection represented a vote for his position on deficit reduction.

“By the way,” he said, “the American people agreed with me that we should reduce our deficits in a balanced way that also takes into account the need for us to grow this economy and put people back to work.”

To Obama, the word “balanced” stands for increasing tax revenue along with spending cuts. After the recently concluded deal to avert the year-end “fiscal cliff,” in which taxes went up on the wealthiest Americans, Republicans have said that’s it for tax increases.

Immediately after Obama’s press conference, House Speaker John Boehner (R) responded with a statement repeating the GOP position that an increase in the debt ceiling must be accompanied by an equal amount in spending cuts.

“The American people do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending at the same time,” Speaker Boehner said. “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.”

Obama also discussed his initiative on gun violence, spurred by the elementary-school massacre in Newtown, Conn., one month ago Monday. Later in the day, he said he would be reviewing the recommendations prepared by Vice President Joe Biden, head of Obama’s task force on guns. He said he would speak in more detail about his gun proposals later in the week.

But one aspect, he said, that could be handled through executive action – and not legislation – would be a measure to improve the tracking of gun data. He also repeated his belief that there needs to be stronger background checks for gun purchasers, limits on access to high-capacity ammunition magazines, and “an assault weapons ban that is meaningful.”

Obama blamed the recent spree of gun buying on people who “oppose any common-sense gun-control or gun-safety measures” and who “have a pretty effective way of ginning up fear on the part of gun owners that somehow the federal government's about to take all your guns away.”

“And you know, there's probably an economic element to that,” Obama added. “It obviously is good for business.”

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