Obama: ‘We Can’t Make Extortion Routine As Part of Our Democracy’

At a Tuesday press conference, the president hit on the GOP debt-ceiling and shutdown strategy.

President Barack Obama speaks during a press conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on October 8, 2013, as the crisis over a US government shutdown and debt ceiling standoff deepens.
National Journal
Matt Berman, Matt Vasilogambros and Brian Resnick
Matt Berman Matt Vasilogambros Brian Resnick
Oct. 8, 2013, 10:34 a.m.

At a Tues­day af­ter­noon press con­fer­ence, the pres­id­ent pushed against the Re­pub­lic­an strategy on the gov­ern­ment shut­down and the debt-ceil­ing, say­ing that he and his party are the ones who have been try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate, not Re­pub­lic­ans. The pres­id­ent poin­ted to the 19 times that Re­pub­lic­ans re­jec­ted a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee on a budget, say­ing that Re­pub­lic­ans are will­ing to risk “eco­nom­ic chaos” if they don’t get “100 per­cent” of what they want.

The pres­id­ent also high-lighted the risks of a debt-ceil­ing breach, say­ing that “a de­cision to ac­tu­ally go through with it, to ac­tu­ally per­mit de­fault, ac­cord­ing to many CEOs would be, in­sane, cata­stroph­ic, chaos — these are more po­lite words.”

“Let’s lift these threats from our fam­il­ies and our busi­nesses,” Obama said, and “get back to work.”

Obama opened his White House state­ment on his earli­er phone call with Speak­er Boehner. The pres­id­ent said he told the speak­er that he’s “happy to talk with him and oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans about any­thing,” but that he will only ne­go­ti­ate with con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans over the budget after the threat of a de­fault and the gov­ern­ment shut­down have con­cluded. The pres­id­ent signaled that he’d be will­ing to ne­go­ti­ate on the tax code, job cre­ation policies, and the Af­ford­able Care Act. This could bring changes in the health care law if Boehner takes up the of­fer, al­though it’s not clear now how far the pres­id­ent is will­ing to go. The Speak­er has been stick­ing firm in not al­low­ing a “clean” (void of Obama­care stip­u­la­tions) con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion to reach the House floor.

Obama also called on Boehner to al­low the House to vote on a meas­ure that would ex­tend the debt lim­it for a year. A clean one-year ex­ten­sion, however, seems like a long-shot right now. Speak­er Boehner ex­pli­citly ruled out such a plan on Sunday, and cer­tain Re­pub­lic­an con­gress­men be­lieve the ad­min­is­tra­tion is bluff­ing on the threat of the debt lim­it. The latest pub­lic polling shows 47 per­cent of the coun­try be­lieves the debt ceil­ing needs to be avoided, though there is a big par­tis­an di­vide. Fifty-four per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans think we can pass the dead­line “without ma­jor prob­lems.”

Speak­er Boehner and House Re­pub­lic­ans, for their part, are set to in­tro­duce a bill Tues­day that would es­tab­lish a pan­el of House and Sen­ate mem­bers to hash out a deal. This plan is already get­ting hammered as a blue­print for just an­oth­er “su­per com­mit­tee.”

It’s over. The full con­fer­ence las­ted for a bit over an hour, and aside from the news made by Harry Re­id out­side of it, we didn’t learn much new. And we par­tic­u­larly didn’t get any in­sight on one top­ic that wasn’t raised by any of the re­port­ers in the room: the roll-out of the Af­ford­able Care Act.

UP­DATE (3:20 p.m.): To­wards the end of the con­fer­ence, Obama talked about his ne­go­ti­ations with House Re­pub­lic­ans and Speak­er Boehner back in 2011: “Whenev­er I see John Boehner, to this day, I say, ‘Shoulda taken the deal that I offered back then.’” If that’s lit­er­ally true, we ima­gine it could help to ex­plain why the two don’t get along bet­ter. That con­ver­sa­tion could get re­pet­it­ive.

UP­DATE (3:05 p.m.): Asked about the pos­sib­il­ity of a new “su­per com­mit­tee” to come up with a budget, agree­ment, the pres­id­ent didn’t im­me­di­ately throw out the idea:

“I know that Speak­er Boehner has talked about set­ting up some new pro­cessor some new su­per com­mit­tee or what have you. The lead­ers up in con­gress can work through whatever pro­cesses they want. But the bot­tom line is … you’re hav­ing good faith ne­go­ti­ations in which there’s give and take or you’re not. “

At the same time, Obama dis­missed some of the rumored para­met­ers of the com­mit­tee, say­ing that he isn’t sure why Demo­crats would agree to a ne­go­ti­ation only on Re­pub­lic­an terms.

UP­DATE (3:05 p.m.): Obama, in his open­ing state­ment, at­temp­ted to de­scribe the cur­rent situ­ation in a way that many Amer­ic­ans could re­late to: “You don’t get a chance to call your bank and say I’m not go­ing to pay my mort­gage this month un­less you throw in a new car and an Xbox.” Con­ser­vat­ives and journ­al­ists, however, quickly mocked the Xbox line, on Twit­ter.

UP­DATE (3:02 p.m.): In an oth­er­wise pat bit of polit­ic­al speak about how “com­prom­ise” is not a dirty word, the pres­id­ent said that though he has flaws, an in­ab­il­ity to com­prom­ise is not one of them. “I’ve been will­ing to com­prom­ise my whole polit­ic­al ca­reer.”

UP­DATE (2:56 p.m.): In oth­er news… While the pres­id­ent was speak­ing, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id an­nounced his plans to in­tro­duce a clean debt ceil­ing bill to the Sen­ate later on Tues­day.

UP­DATE (2:54 p.m.): Speak­ing about Cit­izens United and the state of U.S. polit­ics, the pres­id­ent tried his hand at dia­gnos­ing how the U.S. has got­ten in­to this polit­ic­al situ­ation:

“A big chunk of the Re­pub­lic­an right now are in ger­ry­mandered dis­tricts where there’s no com­pet­i­tion. And those folks are much more wor­ried about a tea party chal­lenger than a gen­er­al elec­tion”¦and in that en­vir­on­ment, it’s a lot harder for them to com­prom­ise.”

UP­DATE (2:48 p.m.): Hit­ting back on the idea that the Treas­ury De­part­ment has “oth­er rab­bits in [their] hat” to pre­vent a debt de­fault, the pres­id­ent said that the de­part­ment has already just about used up all the “ex­traordin­ary meas­ures” avail­able.

Obama did ad­dress the concept of us­ing the 14th amend­ment or a plat­in­um coin to act uni­lat­er­ally to raise the ceil­ing. He was slightly vague, but said that 

“Set­ting aside the leg­al ana­lys­is, what mat­ters is that if you start hav­ing a situ­ation in which there’s leg­al con­tro­versy about Treas­ury’s au­thor­ity to is­sue debt, the dam­age will have been done even if that were con­sti­tu­tion­al be­cause people wouldn’t be sure. It would be tied up in lit­ig­a­tion for a long time. “

“There are no ma­gic bul­lets here,” he said.

UP­DATE (2:42 p.m.): The pres­id­ent tried to also make an oft-touted Demo­crat­ic point that a “clean” budget already in­cludes the se­quest­ra­tion “meat cleav­er” cuts. Those cuts, Obama said, have already hurt thou­sands of fam­il­ies with cuts to Head Start. The shut­down just makes that worse.

UP­DATE (2:38 p.m.): Obama, re­spond­ing to a ques­tion, tried to speak to the people—in­clud­ing mem­bers of Con­gress—who don’t view a debt-ceil­ing breach as a big deal:

“What I have to re­mind them is, we have a lot of oth­er ob­lig­a­tions, not just people who pay treas­ury bills. We have seni­or cit­izens count­ing on their so­cial se­cur­ity ar­riv­ing on time. We have vet­er­ans who are dis­abled who are count­ing on their be­ne­fits.”

And to, you know, draw a clear line: “It is a big deal.”

UP­DATE (2:36 p.m.): The pres­id­ent, speak­ing about what would hap­pen if Con­gress does not raise the debt-lim­it, made things per­son­al:

“I say, ima­gine in your private life, if you de­cided that I’m not go­ing to pay my mort­gage for a month or two — first of all you’re not sav­ing money by not pay­ing your mort­gage. You’re just a dead beat. And you can an­ti­cip­ate that will hurt your cred­it. “

“Which means that in ad­di­tion to debt col­lect­ors call­ing, you’re go­ing to have trouble bor­row­ing in the fu­ture. In you’re able to bor­row in fu­ture, it will be a high­er rate. What’s true for in­di­vidu­als is also true for na­tions, even the most power­ful na­tion on earth. “

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