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Obama to National Press Corps: 'We Are Not a Deadbeat Nation'

In his last press conference of his first term, the president struck a defiant stance, explaining why he spurned Democrats' pleas for an end run around Congress on the debt ceiling.
 
 
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President Barack Obama is a lonely man. He said so himself, at his final press conference of his first term, which took place earlier today in the East Room of the White House. So, standing against the columns of gold brocade curtains that dominate the room’s decor, he invited the House Republican caucus to come over to play cards with him.

That was, of course, a bit of sarcasm on the president’s part, in answer to a question about whether or not he was social enough -- essentially doing the work to form good relationships with both his opponents and allies, as if some make-nice would yield a Congress more amenable to cutting a deal with him. You can’t really blame him for going a little snarky on that one.

“I think there are a lot of Republicans at this point that feel that, given how much energy has been devoted in some of the media that’s preferred by Republican constituencies to demonize me, that it doesn’t look real good socializing with me,” Obama explained. “Charlie Crist down in Florida, I think, testifies to that...”

It was Crist’s joint press conference with Obama four years ago, when, as governor of Florida, he accepted stimulus dollars from the White House, and hugged the president in front of the cameras. That embrace won Crist a primary challenge from Marco Rubio during the Republican primary for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat, with Crist coming out on the losing end. It was one of the first in a series of primary coups by the Tea Party.

“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,” Obama said. “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.”

Raising the Roof

Obama didn’t call this press conference, though, to discuss his social skills. This was about the debt ceiling -- the limit on the nation’s ability to borrow money to pay its debts that is set by Congress. With the nation’s obligations set to exceed the current limit in the near future, congressional action is needed to raise the current limit. And, as we learned in the last negotiation on the debt ceiling, the Tea Party’s allies in the House of Representatives are game to gamble the credit rating of the nation to exact their price for raising the roof. Their price typically encompasses draconian spending cuts on social programs, including Medicare and Social Security.

That’s why Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi last week sent a joint letter to the president, urging him to use any legal means to do an end run around Congress, and to declare the right of executive power to raise the borrowing limit.

Several schemes by which this might be done were recently floated, including invocation of Section 4 of the 14th amendment to the Constitution, which reads: 

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

The other measure floated by policy wonks would be to use a statute designed for the issue of commemorative coins to mind a platinum coin with a face value of $1 trillion, and deposit it in the Treasury.

As did White House Press Secretary Jay Carney this weekend, Obama used his first-term closer to flatly reject both ideas.

Answering a question from NBC’s Chuck Todd, Obama said: “[T]he 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.”

In his opening statement, and again in his response to Todd, Obama made a point of explaining to “the American people” that raising the debt ceiling does not authorize new spending; it simply authorizes that the nation pay the debt it has already incurred.

“I mean, this is not a complicated concept,” Obama said. “You don’t go out to dinner and then eat all you want and then leave without paying the check. And if you do, you’re breaking the law...you don’t say, in order for me to control my appetites, I’m going to not pay the people who are provided me services, people who already lent me the money.”

The president also rejected an idea attributed to House Speaker John Boehner that would raise the debt ceiling incrementally, month by month, in order to expand Republicans’ leverage over the president’s agenda.

“What I will not do,” Obama said, “is have that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people...” As he uttered that line, he used his fingers to form the shape of a gun.

Ginning Up Fear 'Good For [the Gun] Business'

And speaking of guns, the press conference kicked off with a question from the Associate Press’ Julie Pace, who asked about his plans for gun control, a burning topic in the wake of the massacre that took place exactly one month ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. On that topic the president gave up little information, saying he would have more to say on the topic later in the week, presumably when Vice President Joe Biden unveils a report by his task force.

Pressed by ABC’s Jonathan Karl as to whether the president, considering the difficulties he will encounter, getting any kind of gun control through Congress, would consider using his executive powers to effect changes to national gun policy, the president said he would consider such.

 
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