President Obama holds a press conference to mark the end of his first term and answers questions about the upcoming fight over the debt ceiling with Republicans in Congress and potential legislation or executive orders to prevent gun violence.
Asked about the upcoming deadline to raise the debt ceiling, President Obama said the debt ceiling is not about authorizing any new spending, it is authorizing the government to pay the bills for the expenses it has already incurred. He said not doing so would be like going out to eat and then deciding to not to pay the bill.
He also said that the start of his second term was a good time to stop negotiating with congress about fiscal matters “through crisis.”
Full transcript here:
“I want to be clear about this: The debt ceiling is not a question of authorizing more spending. Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize more spending. It simply allows the country to pay for spending that Congress has already committed to. These are bills that have already been racked up, and we need to pay them. 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.
“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. Food inspectors, air traffic controllers, specialists who track down loose nuclear materials wouldn’t get their paychecks. Investors around the world will ask if the United States of America is in fact a safe bet. Markets could go haywire. Interest rates would spike for anybody who borrows money, every homeowner with a mortgage, every student with a college loan, every small business owner who wants to grow and hire. It would be a self-inflicted wound on the economy. It would slow down our growth, might tip us into recession, and ironically, would probably increase our deficit.
So to even entertain the idea of this happening, of the United States of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It’s absurd.
“The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip.
“… What you can count on is, is that the things that I’ve said in the past — 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. (Inaudible) — will all of them get through this Congress? I don’t know.
“Well, Chuck, the issue here is whether or not America pays its bills. We are not a deadbeat nation. And so there’s a very simple solution to this. Congress authorizes us to pay our bills.
Now if the House and the Senate want to give me the authority so that they don’t have to take these tough votes, if they want to put the responsibility on me to raise the debt ceiling, I’m happily (sic) to take it. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, had a proposal like that last year, and I’m happy to accept it.
“But there’s one way to get around this. There’s one way to deal with it, and that is for Congress to authorize me to pay for those items of spending that they have already authorized. And you know, the notion that Republicans in the House or maybe some Republicans in the Senate would suggest that in order for us to get our way on our spending priorities that we would risk the full faith and credit of the United States — that, I think, is not what the founders intended. That’s not how I think most Americans think our democracy should work.
“Congress has not been able to identify $1.2 trillion in cuts that they’re happy with, because these same Republicans say they don’t want to cut defense. They claim that they don’t want to gut Medicare or harm the vulnerable, but the truth of the matter is, is that you can’t meet their own criteria without drastically cutting Medicare or having an impact on Medicaid or affecting our defense spending. So the math just doesn’t add up.
“I mean, this is not a complicated concept. 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… If Congress wants to have a debate about maybe we shouldn’t go out to dinner next time, maybe we should go to a more modest restaurant, that’s fine.
“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.
“I’m confident that there are some steps that we can take that don’t require legislation and that are within my authority as president… I think, for example, how we are gathering data, for example, on guns that fall into the hands of criminals and how we track that more effectively — there may be some steps that we can take administratively, as opposed — through legislation.
As far as people lining up and purchasing more guns, you know, I think that we’ve seen for some time now that those who oppose any common-sense gun control or gun safety measures 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, that — there’s probably an economic element to that. It obviously is good for business.
But I think that, you know, those of us who look at this problem have repeatedly said that responsible gun owners, people who have a gun for protection, for hunting, for sportsmanship — they don’t have anything to worry about. The issue here is not whether or not we believe in the Second Amendment.
The issue is, are there some sensible steps that we can take to make sure that somebody like the individual in Newtown can’t walk into a school and gun down a bunch of children in a — in a shockingly rapid fashion? And surely we can do something about that… I think it’s a fear that’s fanned by those who are — are worried about the possibility of any legislation getting out there.
“You know, when I’m over here at the congressional picnic and folks are coming up and taking pictures with their family, I promise you, Michelle and I are very nice to them, and we have a wonderful time — (scattered laughter) — but it doesn’t prevent them from going under the floor of the House and, you know, blasting me for being a big-spending socialist.”
At the end, the president said this:
“…Personal relationships are important, and obviously I can always do a better job, and the nice thing is, is that now that my girls are getting older, they don’t want to spend that much time with me anyway. (Laughter.) So I’ll be probably calling around, looking for somebody to play cards with or something, OK, I — because I’m getting kind of lonely in this big house.”