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Obama Warns Of Dangerous Consequences If Debt Limit Isn't Raised


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

We begin this hour with the end of President Obama's first term. He's got less than a week before next Monday's inauguration. This morning, he capped things off with an hour-long news conference in the White House East Room. As NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, most of the focus was on a rash of recent financial crises that Washington itself has created.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: This was far from a first term victory lap. The president's tone was measured and somber. He was full of warnings, threats and lines in the sand all aimed at the same audience, congressional Republicans.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: They will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy.

SHAPIRO: He seemed disdainful of threats from the GOP saying twice: We are not a deadbeat nation.

OBAMA: What I will not do is to have that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people.

SHAPIRO: That negotiation is about raising the debt ceiling. Next month, the federal government hits its borrowing limit. President Obama repeatedly said raising the debt ceiling does not authorize new spending, it just lets the government pay the bills that Congress has already racked up. If Congress doesn't raise it, a litany of bad things could begin to happen.

OBAMA: If congressional Republicans refuse to pay America's bills on time, Social Security checks and veterans benefits will be delayed. We might not be able to pay our troops or honor our contracts with small business owners.

SHAPIRO: Last time the debt ceiling came up, this debate cost the U.S. its AAA credit rating and helped create the so-called fiscal cliff. Now Republicans again insist they will not raise the debt ceiling unless they get spending cuts of equal size. President Obama says he'll talk about cuts, but he won't play this game of chicken anymore.

OBAMA: You don't go out to dinner and then, you know, eat all you want and then leave without paying the check. And if you do, you're breaking the law.

SHAPIRO: He said if Congress wants to have a debate about maybe we shouldn't go out to dinner next time or go to a more modest restaurant, that's fine.

OBAMA: That's a debate that we should have. But you don't say, in order for me to control my appetites, I'm going to not pay the people who already provided me services.

SHAPIRO: More broadly, President Obama's frustration was about much more than the debt ceiling, it was about the new normal in Washington. The sense that this country is forever teetering on the precipice of financial disasters created by the country's leaders, whether it's the fiscal cliff, a government shutdown, sequester spending cuts or the debt limit.

OBAMA: We've got to stop lurching from crisis to crisis to crisis when there's this clear path ahead of us that simply requires some discipline, some responsibility and some compromise.

SHAPIRO: Even with Congress out of town, Republicans were quick to respond with written statements. House Speaker John Boehner said the American people do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the president and his allies need to get serious about spending and the debt limit debate is the perfect time for it.

The president's desire to change this pattern is clear, but his ability to do it is more uncertain. During last month's fiscal cliff talks, President Obama had a lot of leverage. Taxes would have gone up on everyone if Congress did nothing. But in the upcoming debates, the White House has less power. The president says one thing he does have on his side is public opinion.

OBAMA: They've got a particular view of what government should do and should be and, you know, that view was rejected by the American people when it was debated during the presidential campaign.

SHAPIRO: One other topic that came up in the news conference was stopping gun violence. President Obama said he's getting recommendations from the vice president today on the one month anniversary of the Newtown shooting.

OBAMA: The belief that we have to have stronger background checks, that we can do a much better job in terms of keeping these magazine clips with high capacity out of the hands of folks who shouldn't have them, an assault weapons ban that is meaningful, that - those are things I continue to believe make sense.

SHAPIRO: The president said he'll give a more detailed presentation about what he'll do to address gun violence later this week. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.