Transcript: President Barack Obama’s press conference on the government shutdown & debt ceiling – Oct. 8, 2013 – Part I

Part I of VI: Transcript of remarks by President Barack Obama on the government shutdown and debt ceiling. The press conference was held on Oct. 8, 2013.

Good afternoon, everybody.

I am eager to take your questions so I’ll try to be brief at the top.

This morning, I had a chance to speak with Speaker [John] Boehner and I told him what I’ve been saying publicly – that I am happy to talk with him and other Republicans about anything, not just issues I think are important but also issues that they think are important.

But I also told him that having such a conversation, talks, negotiations shouldn’t require hanging the threats of a government shutdown or economic chaos over the American people.

Think about it this way: The American people do not get to demand a ransom for doing their jobs. You don’t get a chance to call your banks and say, “I’m not going to pay my mortgage this month unless you throw in a new car and an X Box.” If you’re in negotiations to buy somebody’s house, you don’t get to say, “Well, let’s talk about the price that I’m going to pay and if you don’t give me the price, then I’m going to burn down your house.”

That’s not how negotiations work. That’s not how it happens in business. It’s not how it happens in private life.

In the same way, members of Congress and the House Republicans in particular don’t get to demand ransom in exchange for doing their jobs, and two of their very basic jobs are passing a budget and making sure that America is paying its bill.

They don’t also get to say, “Unless you give me what the voters rejected in the last election, I’m going to cause a recession.” That’s not how it works. No American President would deal with a foreign leader like this. Most of you would not deal with either co-workers or business associates in this fashion. And we shouldn’t be dealing this way here in Washington.

And I’ve heard Republicans suggest that, “Well, no, this is reasonable. This is entirely appropriate.” But as I’ve said before, imagine if a Democratic Congress threaten to crash the global economy unless a Republican President agree to gun background checks or immigration reform. I think it’s fair to say that Republicans would not think that was appropriate.

So let’s lift these threats from our families and our businesses and let’s get down to work.

It’s not like this is a new position that I’m taking here. I had Speaker Boehner and the other leaders in just last week. Either my chief of staff or I have had serious conversations on the budget with Republicans more than 20 times since March. So we’ve been talking all kinds of business. What we haven’t been able to get are serious positions from the Republicans that would actually resolve some core differences.

And they have decided to run out the clock until there’s a government shutdown or the possibility of default thinking that it would give them more leverage. That’s not my characterization. They said it themselves. That was their strategy from the start. And that is not how our government is supposed to run.

It’s not just me, by the way, that has taken the position that we’re willing to have conversations about anything. Senate Democrats have asked to sit down with House Republicans and hash out a budget but have been rejected by the House Republicans 19 times.

At the beginning of this year, Speaker Boehner said, “What we want is regular order and a serious budget process. So the Senate should pass a bill, and the House should pass a bill and then a committee comes together and they hash out their differences and send a bill to the President.”

Well, that’s exactly what Democrats did. Except somewhere along the way, House Republicans decided they wouldn’t appoint people to the committee to try to negotiate. And 19 times they rejected that.

So even after all that, the Democrats in the Senate still passed a budget that effectively reflects Republican priorities at Republican budget levels, just to keep the government open, and the House Republicans couldn’t do that either.

The point is, I think, not only the White House but also Democrats in the Senate and Democrats in the House have shown more than ample willingness to talk about any issues that the Republicans are concerned about. But we can’t do it if the entire basis of the Republican strategy here is, “We’re going to shut down the government or cause economic chaos if we don’t get 100% of what we want.”

So my suggestion to the Speaker has been and will continue to be: Let’s stop the excuses. Let’s take a vote in the House. Let’s end this shutdown right now. Let’s put people back to work. There are enough reasonable Republicans and Democrats in the House who are willing to vote yes on a budget that the Senate has already passed. That vote could take place today; shutdown would be over. Then serious negotiations could proceed around every item in the budget.

Now, as soon as Congress votes to re-open the government, it’s also got to vote to meet our country’s commitments – pay our bills, raise the debt ceiling – because as reckless as a government shutdown is, the economic shutdown caused by America defaulting would be dramatically worse.

And I want to talk about this for a minute because even though people can see and feel the effects of a government shutdown – they’re already experiencing it right now – there are still some people out there who don’t believe that default is a real thing, and we’ve been hearing that some Republicans in Congress that default would not be a big deal.

So let me explain this. If Congress refuses to raise what’s called the debt ceiling, American would not be able to meet all of our financial obligations for the first time in 225 years.

And because it’s called raising the debt ceiling, I think a lot of Americans think it’s raising our debt. It is not raising our debt. This does not add a dime to our debt. It simply says you pay for what Congress already authorized, America purchased, whether that’s the greatest military in the world or veterans’ benefits or Social Security – whatever it is that Congress already authorized. What this does is make sure that we can pay those bills.

You know the last time that the Tea Party Republicans flirted with the idea of default – two years ago – markets plunged; business and consumer confidence plunged; America’s credit rating was downgraded for the first time.

And a decision to actually go through with it, to actually permit a default, according to many CEOs and economists would be – and I’m quoting here – “insane”, “catastrophic”, “chaos”. These are some of the more polite words. Warren Buffet likened default to a “nuclear bomb, a weapon too horrible to use”.

It would disrupt markets. It would undermine the world’s confidence in America as the bedrock of the global economy. And it might permanently increase our borrowing costs, which ironically would mean that it would be more expensive to service what debt we do have and it would add to our deficits and our debts – not decrease them. There’s nothing fiscally responsible about that.

And preventing this should be simple. As I said, raising the debt ceiling is a lousy name, which is why members of Congress in both parties don’t like to vote on it because it makes you vulnerable in political campaigns. But it does not increase our debt; it does not grow our deficits; it does not allow for a single dime of increased spending. All it does is allow the Treasury Department to pay for what Congress has already spent.

But as I said, it’s always a tough vote; people don’t like doing it. But it has been done 45 times since Ronald Reagan took office.

Nobody in the past has ever seriously threatened to breach the debt ceiling until the last two years, and this is the creditworthiness of the United States that we’re talking about. This is our word. This our good name. This is real.

In a government shutdown, millions of Americans face inconvenience or outright hardship. In an economic shutdown, every American could their 401(k)s and home values fall, borrowing costs for mortgages and student loans rise, and there would be a significant risk of a very deep recession at a time when we’re still climbing our way out of the worst recession in our lifetimes.

You know, the American people have already fought too hard and too long to come back from one crisis only to see a handful of more extreme Republicans in the House of Representatives precipitate another one.

Now, the good news is over the past 3.5 years, our businesses have created over 7.5 million new jobs. Our housing market is healing. We’ve cut the deficit in half since I took office. The deficit is coming down faster than any time in the last 50 years. America is poised to become the number one energy producer in the world this year. This year, for the first time in a very long time, we’re producing more oil than we’re importing. So we’ve got a lot of good things going for us.

But the uncertainty caused by just one week of this nonsense so far has caused businesses to reconsider spending and hiring. We’ve seen consumer confidence plunge to the lowest level since 2008. We’ve mortgages held up by thousands of homebuyers who aren’t sure about the economic situation out there. And all this adds to our deficits. It doesn’t subtract from them.

So we can’t afford these manufactured crises every few months. And as I said, this one isn’t even about deficits or spending or budgets. Our deficits are falling at the fastest pace in 60 years. The budget that the Senate passed is at Republican spending levels. It’s their budget that Democrats were willing to put votes on just to make sure the government was open while negotiations took place for a longer term budget.

And what’s happened – the way we got to this point was – one thing and one thing only and that was the Republican obsession with dismantling the Affordable Care Act and denying health care to millions of people. That law, ironically, is moving forward. So most Americans – Democrats and Republicans – agree that health care should not have anything to do with keeping our government open or paying our bills on time, which is why I will sit down and work with anyone of any party not only to talk about the budget, I’ll talk about ways to improve the health care system; I’ll talk about ways that we could shrink our long-term deficits; and I’ll also want to talk about how we’re going to help the middle-class, strengthen early childhood education, improve our infrastructure, research and development. There are a whole bunch of things that I want to talk about in terms of how we’re going to make sure that everybody’s getting a fair shake in this society and that our economy is growing in a broad-based way, building our middle class.

And by the way, if anybody doubts my sincerity about that, I’ve put forward proposals in my budget to reform entitlement programs for the long haul and reform our tax code in a way that would close loopholes for the wealthiest and lower rates for corporations and help us invest in new jobs, reduce deficits. Some of these were originally Republican proposals because I don’t any party has a monopoly on good ideas.

So I’ve shown myself willing to go more than halfway in these conversations. And if reasonable Republicans want to talk about these things again, I’m willing to head up to the Hill and try. I’ll even spring for dinner again.

But I’m not going to do it until the more extreme parts of the Republican Party stop forcing John Boehner to issue threats about our economy. We can’t make extortion routine as part of our democracy. Democracy doesn’t function this way. And this is not just for me; it’s also for my successors in office. Whatever party they’re from, they shouldn’t have to pay a ransom either for Congress doing its basic job. We’ve got to put a stop to it.

Last point I’ll make. Already this week, I had to miss critical meetings in Asia to promote American jobs and businesses. And although as long as we get this fixed, that’s not a long-term damage, whenever we do these things, it hurts our credibility around the world. It makes it look like we don’t have our act together. That’s not something we should welcome.

The greatest nation on Earth shouldn’t have to get permission from a few irresponsible members of Congress every couple of months just to keep our government open or to prevent an economic catastrophe.

So let’s pass a budget. Let’s end this government shutdown. Let’s pay our bills. Let’s avert an economic shutdown. Let’s drop the gimmicks, put aside what’s good for any particular party and let’s focus on what’s good for the American people because they know we’ve got a lot of work to do.


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