President Obama Delivers a Statement and Answers Questions from the Press

President Obama Delivers a Statement and Answers Questions from the Press


The President:
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 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
heads of 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 bank and say, “I’m not going to pay
my mortgage this month unless you throw in
a new car and an Xbox. If you’re in negotiations
around buying somebody’s house, you don’t get to say,
“Well, let’s talk about the price
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 bills. 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 coworkers 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 threatened to crash
the global economy unless a Republican President
agreed 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
allow us to 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’ve 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,
who 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 they 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’ve 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 is, we’re going to
shut down the government or cause economic chaos if we don’t get
100 percent 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. The shutdown would be over. Then, serious
negotiations could proceed around every item in the budget. Now, as soon as Congress votes
to reopen 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 from
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, America 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 has already authorized
America to purchase. Whether that’s the greatest
military in the world, or veterans benefits,
or Social Security — whatever it is that Congress
has already authorized, what this does is make sure
that we can pay those bills. Now, 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 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 Buffett 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, of course,
ironically would mean that it would be
more expensive for us to service what debt we do have, and it would add to our deficits
and our debt, not decrease them. There’s nothing fiscally
responsible about that. 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 —
although 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 is 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 see their 401ks 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. 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 three and a half years, our businesses have created
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. You’ve seen consumer
confidence plunge to the lowest level since 2008. You’ve seen mortgages held up
by thousands of homebuyers who weren’t sure about the
economic situation out there. And all this adds
to our deficits; it doesn’t subtract from it. 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
Republican obsession with dismantling
the Affordable Care Act and denying health care
to millions of Americans. 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 can
shrink our long-term deficits. I’ll also want to talk about how we’re going to
help the middle class and strengthen early
childhood education, and improve our infrastructure,
and research and development. There are a whole bunch of
things I want to talk about in terms of how we’re going
to make sure that everybody is getting a fair
shake in this society, and that our economy
is growing in a broad-based way and building our middle class. And, by the way, if anybody
doubts my sincerity about that, I’ve even 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 and reduce our deficits. And some of these were
originally Republican proposals, because I don’t believe
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 ready 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 ransom either for Congress doing
its basic job. We’ve got to put a stop to it. The 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 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. And 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. All right? So with that, let me take
a couple of questions, and I will start
with Julie Pace of AP. The Press:
Thank you Mr. President. Obviously, if Congress
does pass a clean CR and a clean debt ceiling bill, those may just be
short-term measures. The President: Yes. The Press:
If that happens, does your
offer to negotiate with them on issues like health care and
spending and deficit reduction still stand in the
intervening weeks if they pass measures
that are just perhaps six weeks or two months long? The President:
Absolutely. I mean, what I’ve said is
that I will talk about anything. What will happen is we
won’t agree on everything. I mean, the truth is, is that
the parties are pretty divided on a whole bunch of
big issues right now. Everybody understands that. And by the way,
voters are divided on a lot of those issues, too. And I recognize that there
are some House members, Republican House members,
where I got clobbered in the last election, and they don’t get
politically rewarded a lot for being seen as
negotiating with me. And that makes it harder
for divided government to come together. But I am willing to work
through all those issues. The only thing that our
democracy can’t afford is a situation where one side
says, unless I get my way, and only my way,
unless I get concessions before we even start having
a serious give-and-take, I’ll threaten to
shut down the government or I will threaten to
not pay America’s bills. So I will not eliminate
any topic of conversation. And I’ve shown myself willing to
engage all the parties involved, every leader, on any issue. The Press:
And that applies no matter
how long the time frame is on the debt ceiling
bill that they would pass? The President:
The only thing that
I will say is that we’re not going to pay a ransom for
America paying its bills. That’s something that
should be non-negotiable. And everybody
should agree on that. Everybody should say one of
the most valuable things we have is America’s creditworthiness. This is not something
we should even come close to fooling around with. And so when I read
people saying, oh, this wouldn’t be a big
deal, we should test it out; let’s take default out for a
spin and see how it rides — and 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 deadbeat. 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. And if you are able
to borrow in the future, you’re going to have
to borrow at a higher rate. Well, what’s true
for individuals is also true for nations — even the most powerful
nation on Earth. And if we are creating an
atmosphere in which people are not sure whether or not
we pay our bills on time, then that will have
a severe long-term impact on our economy and on
America’s standard of living. And that’s not something that we should even be
in a conversation about. That is not something that
we should be using as leverage. Okay. Julianna Goldman. The Press:
Thank you Mr. President. You laid out the economic
consequences of default, but if we were to
get to that point, would you prioritize and pay
bondholders first to maintain the semblance of credit or — rather than
Social Security recipients or military
servicemen and women? And how would you go ahead
and make that determination? The President:
I am going to continue
to be very hopeful that Congress does not
put us in that position. And I think if people understand
what the consequences are, they will set that
potential scenario aside. I do know that there have been
some who have said that if we just pay bondholders, if we
just pay people who have bought Treasury bills that we really
won’t be in default because those interest
payments will be made. And to them, what I have to
remind them is we’ve got a lot of other obligations, not just
people who pay Treasury bills. We’ve got senior citizens who
are counting on their Social Security check arriving on time. We have veterans
who are disabled who are counting
on their benefits. We have companies who are doing
business for our government and for our military that have
payrolls that they have to meet, and if they do not
get paid on time, they may have to
lay off workers. All those folks
are potentially affected if we are not able to pay
all of our bills on time. What’s also true is
if the markets are seeing that we’re not paying
all our bills on time that will affect
our creditworthiness even if some people
are being paid on time. So, again, just to boil
this down to personal examples, if you’ve got a mortgage,
a car note and a student loan that you have to pay,
and you say, well, I’m going to make
sure I pay my mortgage, but I’m not going to pay
my student loan or my car note, that’s still going to have
an impact on your credit. Everybody is still going to look
at that and say, you know what, I’m not sure this person
is that trustworthy. At a minimum, presumably,
they’re going to charge a higher interest rate. That’s what would happen to you
if you made those decisions. Well, the same is true
for the federal government. So we are exploring
all contingencies. I know that Secretary Lew,
the Secretary of the Treasury, will be appearing before
Congress on Thursday, and he can address some of the
additional details about this. But let me be clear: No option
is good in that scenario. There’s no silver bullet. There’s no magic wand that
allows us to wish away the chaos that could result if, for the
first time in our history, we don’t pay our bills on time. And when I hear people
trying to downplay the consequences of that, I think that’s
really irresponsible. And I’m happy to talk
to any of them individually and walk them through
exactly why it’s irresponsible. And it’s particularly funny
coming from Republicans who claim to be
champions of business. There’s no
businessperson out here who thinks this
wouldn’t be a big deal. Not one. You go to anywhere from
Wall Street to Main Street and you ask a CEO of a company,
or ask a small businessperson whether it would be a big deal
if the United States government isn’t paying its bills on time, they’ll tell you
it’s a big deal. It would hurt. And it’s unnecessary. That’s the worst part of it. This is not a complicated
piece of business. And there’s no reason
why, if, in fact, Republicans are serious
about wanting to negotiate, wanting to have
a conversation, wanting to talk, there’s no reason why
you have to have that threat looming over the conversations. I mean, think about it. The only reason
that the Republicans have held out on negotiations
up until the last week or so is because they thought
it was a big enough deal that they would force
unilateral concessions out of Democrats
and out of me. They said so. They basically said,
you know what, the President is so responsible
that if we just hold our breath and say we’re going
to threaten default, then he’ll give us what we want and we won’t
have to give anything in return. Again, that’s not my
account of the situation. You can read statements
from Republicans over the last several months
who said this explicitly. And so, for them
now to say, well, it wouldn’t be a big
deal if it happens, that’s not how
they’ve been acting over the last couple months. And if it’s not a big deal, then why would I give them
concessions now to avoid it? It is a big deal. And nobody should be getting
concessions for making sure that the full faith and credit of
the United States is retained. Sam Stein. The Press:
Thank you Mr. President. With Speaker Boehner
so far unwilling to hold a vote on a clean CR, what assurances can you
give to those affected by a shutdown who are concerned
about an even longer impasse? And how worried
are you, personally, that your preferred solution
to this is a clean CR at sequestration
levels that may do harm to the nation’s economy
and your second term agenda? The President:
Well, I mean, Sam, you’re making an
important point, which is what we’re asking of
the Republicans right now is to keep the government open at
funding levels that Democrats think are very harmful to
the economy and inadequate to make sure that the
economy is growing faster, more people are
put back to work, and the middle class is growing. We’re willing to pass
at least a short-term budget that opens up the government
at current funding levels. It doesn’t even address
the harm that’s been done because of sequestration. Now, the Democrats
have a budget that
would eliminate sequestration — this meat-cleaver approach
to deficit reduction — and make sure that we’re
adequately funding basic medical research
and Head Start programs and VA programs, and a whole range of things that have been really
hard hit this year. But we recognize that there
are going to have to be some compromises between
the Democratic position and the Republican position. And in the meantime, we
shouldn’t hurt the economy even worse by shutting
down the government. So let me just give you
an example — very specific. Because of sequestration,
because of the meat-cleaver cuts that have been taking place
over the course of this year, thousands of families have
lost Head Start slots for their children. So you’ve had parents
all across the country who’ve been scrambling
trying to figure out how can I find some decent,
quality child care for my kids. Now, the government shutdown
means several thousand more are going to be
losing their slots. If we vote today or
tomorrow or the next day in the House of Representatives to go ahead and
reopen the government, at least those additional
several thousand people will be spared the difficulties
of trying to scramble and figure out where
your kid is going to be when you’re trying
to go to work. But it doesn’t solve
the broader problems. And if we were going to
have real negotiations, the Democrats would say, let’s
solve the bigger problem — what about all those thousands
who have been hurt by sequester? The Democrats aren’t making
that demand right now. We understand there’s going to
have to be some give-and-take. What we are saying is,
don’t hurt more people while we’re trying to resolve
these differences; let’s just at least make sure
that we keep the lights on while we’re having
these conversations. The Press:
Do you support back-pay
for furloughed workers? The President:
Excuse me? The Press:
Do you support back-pay for
furloughed federal workers? The President:
Absolutely. I mean, that’s how
we’ve always done it. Roberta Rampton. The Press:
Thanks. You talked a bit about the hit
to credibility around the world that this impasse has caused. I’m wondering what you and
your administration are telling worried foreign creditors —
China and Japan — who are calling and asking
about whether the United States is going to avoid
defaulting on its debt. The President:
Well, I won’t disclose
any specific conversations. But obviously my message to
the world is the United States always has paid its bills
and it will do so again. But I think they’re not
just looking at what I say, they’re looking at
what Congress does. And that ultimately
is up to Speaker Boehner. This will not get resolved, we’re not going
to calm creditors until they see
Speaker Boehner call up a bill that reopens the
government and authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury
to pay our bills on time. And until they see that,
there’s going to be a cloud over U.S. economic credibility. But it is not one from
which we can’t recover. I mean, we’ve been
through this before. Every country — every democracy,
in particular — has tussles over the budget, and I think most world
leaders understand it. They, themselves,
have been through it if they’re in a democracy. What you haven’t
seen before, I think, from the vantage point of a lot
of world leaders is the notion that one party in Congress might
blow the whole thing up if they don’t get their way. They’ve never seen that before. And that does make them nervous, particularly given
what happened in 2011. I mean, keep in mind we’ve
been here before, right? We saw what happened in 2011. I think the assumption
was that the Americans must have learned their lesson; that there would
be budget conflicts, but nobody again would
threaten the possibility that we would default. And when they hear
members of the Senate and members of Congress saying, maybe default
wouldn’t be that bad, I’ll bet that
makes them nervous. It makes me nervous. It should make the
American people nervous — because that’s irresponsible. It is out of touch with reality. It is based on a flawed analysis
of how our economy works. You cannot pay some
bills and not others, and think somehow that the fact
that you’re paying some bills protects you from a loss
of creditworthiness. That’s not what happens
in our own personal lives. I don’t know why people think
that that’s how it works for
the United States government. The Press:
Do you think you might
have emergency powers that you could use after
any default situation? The President:
We have used a lot
of our emergency powers. Jack Lew has used
extraordinary measures to keep paying our bills
over the last several months. But at a certain point,
those emergency powers run out, and the clock is ticking. And I do worry that Republicans,
but also some Democrats, may think that we’ve got a bunch
of other rabbits in our hat. There comes a point in which,
if the Treasury cannot hold auctions to sell Treasury bills,
we do not have enough money coming in to pay all
our bills on time. It’s very straightforward. And I know there’s been some
discussion, for example, about my powers under the
14th Amendment to go ahead and ignore the debt ceiling law. Setting aside the legal
analysis, what matters is, is that if you start
having a situation in which there’s
legal controversy about the U.S. 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. That’s going to
make people nervous. So a lot of the strategies
that people have talked about — well, the President can
roll out a big coin, or he can resort to some
other constitutional measure — what people ignore
is that, ultimately, what matters is
what do the people who are buying
Treasury bills think? And, again, I’ll just boil
it down in very personal terms. If you’re buying
a house and you’re not sure whether the seller
has title to the house, you’re going to be
pretty nervous about buying it. And at minimum,
you’d want a much cheaper price to buy that house
because you wouldn’t be sure whether or not you’re
going to own it at the end. Most of us would just walk away, because no matter
how much we like the house, we’d say to ourselves, the last
thing I want is to find out after I’ve bought it
that I don’t actually own it. Well, the same thing is true
if I’m buying Treasury bills from the U.S. government. And here I am sitting here — what if there’s
a Supreme Court case deciding that
these aren’t valid, that these aren’t
valid legal instruments obligating the U.S.
government to pay me? I’m going to be stressed — which means I may
not purchase them. And if I do purchase them, I’m
going to ask for a big premium. So there are
no magic bullets here. There’s one simple
way of doing it, and that is Congress
going ahead and voting. And the fact that right now
there are votes, I believe, to go ahead and take
this drama off the table should at least be tested. Speaker Boehner keeps on saying he doesn’t have
the votes for it, and what I’ve said is,
put it on the floor, see what happens,
and at minimum, let every member of
Congress be on record. Let them vote to keep
the government open or not, and they can determine
where they stand, and defend that vote
to their constituencies. And let them vote
on whether or not America should pay its bills or not. And if, in fact, some of
these folks really believe that it’s not that big of
a deal, they can vote no, and that will be useful
information for voters to have. And if it fails,
and we do end up defaulting, I think voters should
know exactly who voted not to pay our bills
so that they can be responsible for the consequences
that come with it. Ari Shapiro. The Press:
Thank you, Mr. President. You mentioned the Supreme Court,
and the term started today with the campaign finance
case that sort of picks up where Citizens United left off. You’ve called Citizens United “devastating to
the public interest,” so I wonder if you could
weigh in on this latest case. The President:
Well, the latest
case would go even further than Citizens United. I mean, essentially it
would say anything goes; there are no rules in terms
of how to finance campaigns. There aren’t a lot of
functioning democracies around the world that work this way,
where you can basically have millionaires and billionaires
bankrolling whoever they want, however they want —
in some cases undisclosed. And what it means
is ordinary Americans are shut out of the process. And Democrats aren’t entirely
innocent of this in the past. And I had to raise a lot
of money for my campaign, so I — there’s nobody
who operates in politics that has perfectly clean
hands on this issue. But what is also true is that
all of us should bind ourselves to some rules that say the
people who vote for us should be more important than somebody who’s spending
a million dollars, $10 million,
or $100 million to help us get elected — because we don’t know
what their agendas are, we don’t know what
their interests are. And I continue to believe that
Citizens United contributed to some of the problems we’re
having in Washington right now. You have some
ideological extremist who has a big bankroll and they
can entirely skew our politics. And there are a whole bunch of
members of Congress right now who privately will tell you, I know our positions
are unreasonable, but we’re scared that
if we don’t go along with the tea party agenda or some particularly
extremist agenda that we’ll be challenged
from the right. And the threats
are very explicit, and so they toe the line. And that’s part of why
we’ve seen a breakdown of just normal, routine
business done here in Washington on behalf of
the American people. And all of you know it. I mean, I’m not telling you
anything you don’t know — because it’s very explicit. You report on it. A big chunk of the
Republican Party right now are in gerrymandered districts
where there’s no competition, and those folks
are much more worried about a tea party challenger than they are about
a general election where they’ve got to compete against a Democrat
or go after independent votes. And in that environment, it’s a lot harder
for them to compromise. Mark Landler. The Press:
Thank you Mr. President. This week, the President
of China has visited several of the Asian countries
that you were going to visit and have had to skip
because of the shutdown. The President: Right. The Press:
He’s also taken a big role
at the two regional summits, both of which
your administration has made a pretty
big priority of as part of the
broader Asia pivot. Does China benefit from
the chaos in Washington? And then, more broadly,
you’ve said in general that this hurts the reputation
of the United States overseas. Are there specific things
that you can point to where you already
have seen some damage? And one that occurs
to me is the trade deal that you’ve tried to do in Asia. The leaders today announced that
they still want to wrap it up, but they no longer are able to
say they want to wrap it up by the end of this year. Had you been there, do you
think you could have gotten that additional push? The President:
I think that’s a great example, and we don’t know, but it
didn’t help that I wasn’t there to make sure that we went
ahead and closed a trade deal that would open up
markets and create jobs for the United States, and make sure that countries
were trading fairly with us in the most dynamic,
fastest-growing market in the world. I should have been there. But I can tell you — because I had to apologize
to some of the host countries — that they understood
that the most important thing I can do for them and
the most important thing I can do for the bilateral
relationship and America’s reputation is making sure that
we reopen our government and we don’t default. So I don’t think it’s
going to do lasting damage. As I said, if we deal
with this the way we should, then folks around the world
will attribute this to the usual messy process
of American democracy, but it doesn’t
do lasting damage. In the short term,
I would characterize it as missed opportunities. We continue to be the
one indispensable nation. There are countries across
Asia who have welcomed our pivot because they want
to do business with us. They admire our economy. They admire our entrepreneurs. They know that their growth
is going to be contingent on working with us. They care about
the security environment that we’ve maintained — helped maintain,
and the freedom of navigation and commerce that is
so important to them. So it’s not as if they’ve
got other places to go. They want us to be there
and they want to work with us. But in each of these big
meetings that we have around the world,
a lot of business gets done. And in the same way
that a CEO of a company, if they want to close a deal,
aren’t going to do it by phone, they want to show up and
look at somebody eye-to-eye and tell them why it’s important
and shake hands on a deal — the same thing is true
with respect to world leaders. And the irony is our
teams probably do more to organize a
lot of these multilateral forums and set the agenda than anybody. I mean, we end up being
engaged much more than China, for example,
in setting the agenda and moving this stuff forward. And so when — it’s almost like me not
showing up to my own party. I think it creates
a sense of concern on the part of other leaders. But as long as we
get through this, they’ll understand it and
we’ll be able to, I believe, still get these deals done. The last point I’d make, though, is we can’t do it
every three months. Right? Back in the ’90s,
we had a government shutdown. That happened one time,
and then after that, the Republican Party
and Mr. Gingrich realized this isn’t a sensible
way to do business, that we shouldn’t engage
in brinksmanship like this, and then they started having
a serious conversation with President Clinton
about a whole range of issues. And they got some
things that they wanted. They had to give the Democrats some things that
the Democrats wanted. But it took on a sense
of normal Democratic process. So here we already went
through this once back in 2011. And then, at the end of last
year, right after my election, we went through
something similar with the so-called fiscal cliff, where Republicans wouldn’t
negotiate about taxes, despite the fact that taxes
actually went up anyway, even though they
refused to negotiate. And they could actually have
gotten some things from us that they wanted if
they had been willing to engage in normal negotiations. So we’ve got to stop
repeating this pattern. I know the American
people are tired of it. And to all the American people, I apologize that you have
to go through this stuff every three months,
it seems like. And lord knows I’m tired of it. But at some point, we’ve got
to kind of break these habits, and get back to the point where
everybody understands that in negotiations there
is give and there is take, and you do
not hold people hostage or engage in ransom-taking
to get 100 percent of your way. And you don’t suggest that
somehow a health care bill that you don’t agree with
is destroying the Republic, or is a grand Socialist scheme. If you disagree with
certain aspects of it, tell us what you disagree
with and let’s work on it. If you’re concerned
about long-term debt, that’s a good thing
to be concerned about, but don’t pretend as if
America is going bankrupt at a time when the deficits
have been cut in half. That’s what the American
people, I think, expect, is just civility, common sense,
give-and-take, compromise. Those aren’t dirty words. There’s nothing wrong with them. And I think the American
people understand I may — not “I may” — I have flaws. Michelle will tell you. One of them is not that
I’m unwilling to compromise. I’ve been willing to compromise
my entire political career. And I don’t believe that I have
the answers to everything and it’s my way or the highway. But I’m not going to
breach a basic principle that would weaken
the presidency, change our democracy, and do great damage
to ordinary people, just in order to go along with
what the House Republicans are talking about. The Press:
Sir, just one follow-up — I did ask specifically
about China, and I’m wondering
whether to what extent is our loss their gain. The President:
I’m sure the Chinese don’t mind
that I’m not there right now in the sense that there are
areas where we have differences and they can present
their point of view and not get as much pushback
as if I were there — although Secretary
of State Kerry is there, and I’m sure he’s
doing a great job. But I’ve also said that
our cooperation with China is not a zero-sum game. There are a lot of areas
where the Chinese and us agree. On trade, in particular, though, here is an area where
part of what we’re trying to do is raise standards
for, for example, intellectual
property protection, which sometimes is
a big problem in China. And if we can get a trade deal
with all the other countries in Asia that says you’ve got
to protect people’s intellectual property that will help us in
our negotiations with China. Richard McGregor. The Press:
Up here. The President:
There you go, Richard. The Press:
Could I go back to the
issue of debt privatization? The President: Yes. The Press:
What are your legal
liabilities — what is your legal advice? That foreign creditors
must be paid first, particularly as it’s
a sovereign credit issue — The President: Richard,
you know what I’m going to do is I’m going to let Jack Lew, the Secretary
of the Treasury, make a formal
presentation on Thursday before the Senate committee, because this is obviously
sensitive enough and I think people would be paying close enough
attention that details count. And I think prepared remarks
from Secretary Lew on that topic would probably be
more appropriate. But as I indicated before,
we plan for every contingency. So obviously,
worst-case scenario, there are things that
we will try to do. But I will repeat: I don’t
think any option is good. Steven Dennis. The Press:
Mr. President, I’m wondering
if you could talk a little bit about budget process. In the past, you’ve negotiated
along with the debt ceiling with the Blue Dogs,
for instance, in 2009, 2010 — along with a debt
ceiling increase then. Pay-as-you-go reform,
you named a fiscal commission. The Republicans today are
talking about maybe another committee that would
work out our differences over the next few weeks. Is that something that you
could talk about on the side, something that wouldn’t
necessarily be a concession, but something that would be a
format for getting a deal done? The President:
Here’s the thing, Steven. I know that Speaker Boehner has
talked about setting up some new process or some new super
committee, or what have you. The leaders up in Congress, they can work through
whatever processes they want. But the bottom line is either
you’re having good-faith negotiations in which there’s
give-and-take, or you’re not. Now, there is already
a process in place called the Budget Committees that could come
together right now — Democrats have been
asking for 19 months to bring them together — make a determination how
much should the government be spending next year. The Appropriations Committees
could go through the list, and here’s how much we’re going
to be spending for defense and here’s how much we’re going
to be spending for education. And that’s a process that’s
worked reasonably well for the last 50 years. I don’t know that we need
to set up a new committee for a process like
that to move forward. What has changed, or what seems
to be motivating the idea we have to have a new process
is Speaker Boehner, or at least some faction of
the Republicans in the House and maybe some in the Senate, are holding out for
a negotiation in theory, but in fact, basically,
Democrats give a lot of concessions to Republicans,
Republicans don’t give anything, and then that’s
dubbed as compromise. And the reason that Democrats
have to give is because they’re worried that the government
is going to stay shut down or the U.S. government
is going to default. And again, you can dress
it up any way you want. If that’s the
theory that the Republicans are going forward with,
then it’s not going to work. So let me just give you
one specific example. I’ve heard at least —
and I can’t confirm this — that one of the ideas of this
new committee is you could talk about reductions in
discretionary spending; you could talk about entitlement
reform and reductions in mandatory spending;
you could talk about how long you’d extend the debt ceiling; but you couldn’t
talk about closing corporate loopholes that aren’t
benefitting ordinary folks economically, and potentially,
if you closed them, would allow us to pay for things
like better education for kids. Well, I don’t know why Democrats
right now would agree to a format that
takes off the table all the things they care about, and is confined to the things
that the Republicans care about. So, again, I don’t
know that that’s exactly what’s being proposed. My simple point is this: I think Democrats
in the Senate and the House are prepared to
talk about anything. They can design whatever
formats they want. What is not fair and will not
result in an actual deal is ransom-taking,
or hostage-taking, and the expectation that
Democrats are paying ransom or providing concessions
for the mere act of reopening the government
or paying our bills. Those are not things
that you do for me, and they’re not things
that you do for the Democrats. The Press:
But is there room here where it’s not
necessarily a concession; where it is you
would negotiate what the negotiations
are going to look like? You don’t have to agree
to overturn Obamacare, but you can actually negotiate
what the talks are going to look like so everybody
is comfortable. And you know, you’ve
mentioned yourself, this is a tough vote for
all these House Republicans. You’re asking them
to take a very tough vote for the debt ceiling. Usually, people in both parties
want to have some cover, something that they can
point to and say, hey, I want some budget
process reform — The President:
Which is fine — The Press:
— before I approve another
trillion dollars in debt. The President:
Which is fine. And so if they want to do
that, reopen the government, extend the debt ceiling. If they can’t do
it for a long time, do it for the period of time in which these negotiations
are taking place. Why is it that we’ve got
hundreds of thousands of people who aren’t working
right now in order for what you just
described to occur? That doesn’t make any sense. The Small Business
Administration gives out a billion dollars’ worth
of loans every month to small businesses
all across the country. That’s not happening right now. So there are small
businesses in every state that are counting on a loan
to get their business going, and you’ve got the party
of small business saying, the Small Business
Administration can’t do it — that’s what they
call themselves. And yet, they’re suffering. You’ve got farmers who are
waiting for loans right now. Those loans cannot be processed. The Republican Party
says they’re the party that looks out for farmers. I happen to disagree; I think
farmers have done real good under my administration,
but having said that, why would you keep
the government shut down and those farmers not getting
their loans while we’re having the discussions that
you just talked about? The Republicans say they’re
very concerned about drilling. They say, Obama has been
restricting oil production, despite the fact that oil
production is at its highest levels that it’s been in years
and is continuing to zoom up. But they say the Democrats are
holding back oil production in this country. Well, one of the things that
happens when the government shut down is new drilling
permits aren’t processed. So why would the Republicans say
to the folks who are interested in drilling for oil, sorry,
we can’t let those things be processed until we have some
negotiations and we have some cover to do what we’re
supposed to be doing anyway? That doesn’t make sense. If there’s a way to solve this, it has to include
reopening the government, and saying America
is not going to default, it’s going to pay our bills. They can attach
some process to that that gives them
some certainty that, in fact, the things they’re
concerned about will be topics of negotiation,
if my word is not good enough — but I’ve told them
I’m happy to talk about it. But if they want to specify all
the items that they think need to be a topic of
conversation, happy to do it. If they want to say part of that
process is we’re going to go through line-by-line all the
aspects of the President’s health care plan that we don’t
like and we want the President to answer for those things,
I’m happy to sit down with them for as many hours as they want. I won’t let them gut a law that
is going to make sure tens of millions of people
actually get health care, but I’m happy to talk about it. The Press:
Mr. President, can I ask
you a question about — The President:
Stephen Collinson. The Press:
Thank you, Mr. President. The President:
I’m just going
through my list, guys. Talk to Jay. [laughter] The Press:
The operations in Africa
this weekend suggest that the continent is now the
central front in the campaign against terrorism,
and if we’re going to see U.S. military operations
all around the continent, how does that square with your
contention that American cannot be at war forever? The President:
Well, if you look
at the speech I gave at the National Defense College
several months ago, I outlined how I saw the shift
in terrorism around the world and what we have to
do to respond to it. And part of what I said is, is that we had
decimated core al Qaeda that had been operating
primarily between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but you now had
these regional groups, some of which are
explicitly tied to al Qaeda or that ideology, some
of which are more localized. Few of them have the ability
to project beyond their borders, but they can do a lot of
damage inside their borders. And Africa is one of the places
where, because, in some cases, a lack of capacity on
the part of the governments, in some cases because it is
easier for folks to hide out in vast terrains that are
sparsely populated, that you’re seeing some
of these groups gather. And we’re going to have to
continue to go after them. But there’s a difference between
us going after terrorists who are plotting directly to
do damage to the United States, and us being involved in wars. The risks of terrorism and
terrorist networks are going to continue
for some time to come. We’ve got to have
a long-term plan that is not just military-based; we’ve got to engage in
a war of ideas in the region, and engage with Muslim
countries and try to isolate radical elements that are
doing more damage to Muslims than they’re doing
to anybody else. We’ve got to think about
economic development, because although there’s
not a direct correlation between terrorism
and the economy, there’s no doubt that if
you’ve got a lot of unemployed, uneducated young
men in societies that there’s a
greater likelihood that terrorist
recruits are available. But where you’ve got active
plots and active networks, we’re going to go after them. We prefer partnering with
countries where this is taking place wherever we can, and we
want to build up their capacity. But we’re not going
to farm out our defense. And I have to say, by the way,
the operations that took place both in Libya and Somalia were
examples of the extraordinary skill and dedication and
talent of our men and women in the armed forces. They do their jobs extremely
well, with great precision, at great risk to themselves. And I think they are pretty good
examples for how those of us here in Washington
should operate as well. The Press:
Mr. President, did the
capture of Mr. Libi comply with international law? The President:
We know that
Mr. al-Libi planned and helped to execute plots that
killed hundreds of people, a whole lot of Americans. And we have strong
evidence of that. And he will be
brought to justice. Mark Knoller. The Press:
Mr. President, while you’re
waiting for the shutdown to end, why is it that
you can’t go along with any of the bills
the House is passing funding the FDA and FEMA — where you were yesterday — and veterans’ benefits
and Head Start? You’ve got to be tempted
to sign those bills and get funding to
those programs that you support. The President:
Of course, I’m tempted,
because you’d like to think that you could solve at
least some of the problem if you couldn’t
solve all of it. But here’s the problem. What you’ve seen are bills
that come up where wherever Republicans are feeling
political pressure they put a bill forward. And if there’s
no political heat, if there’s no television story
on it, then nothing happens. And if we do some sort of
shotgun approach like that, then you’ll have some programs
that are highly visible get funded and reopened — like national monuments — but things that don’t
get a lot of attention — like those SBA loans —
not being funded. And we don’t get to select which
programs we implement or not. There are a whole
bunch of things that the Republicans have said
are law that we have to do. And I don’t get a chance to go
back and say, you know what, this cockamamie idea that this
Republican congressman came up with I really don’t like,
so let’s not implement that. Once you have a budget
and a government with a set of functions, you make sure that
it’s all operating. We don’t get to pick and choose
based on which party likes what. So that’s where the budget
discussions take place. Now, if there are some things
that the Republicans don’t like, they should argue for
eliminating those programs in the budget, come up with an
agreement with the Democrats. Maybe the Democrats will
agree and those things won’t be funded. But you don’t do a piecemeal
approach like that when you’re dealing with
a government shutdown. Okay? The Press:
Mr. President, would
you be willing — The President:
I’m going to take
one more question. And right here, you’ve been — your hand persistence
has worked. [laughter] The Press:
Persistence pays off, yes. Mr. President, you’ve talked
about the political dynamics that leave House Republicans
feeling that they don’t want to negotiate with you, they
don’t want to come together. I wanted to ask you
two things about that. Looking back at
the 2011 default discussions and the budget drama,
is there anything that you wish that you had done
differently in 2011? And after this, what you
call this nonsense has ended, what do you expect
the political dynamics might — how will they have
changed to move forward? The President:
Well, I think it’s
an interesting question. In 2011, I entered into
good-faith negotiations with John Boehner. He had just won the speakership. It was at a time when, because we were still
responding to the recession, deficits were high,
people were concerned about it, and I thought it was my
obligation to meet him halfway. And so we had a whole
series of talks. And at that point at least,
nobody had any belief that people would come close
to potential default. I don’t regret having entered
into those negotiations, and we came fairly close. And whenever I see John Boehner
to this day, I still say, you should have taken the deal
that I offered you back then, which would have dealt with
our long-term deficit problems, would not have impeded
growth as much, would have really
boosted confidence. But at that time, I think House
Republicans had just taken over. They were feeling their
oats and thinking, we don’t have to compromise. And we came pretty
close to default, and we saw the impact of that. I would have thought that they
would have learned the lesson from that, as I did, which is
we can’t put the American people and our economy through
that ringer again. So that’s the reason
why I’ve been very clear, we’re not going to negotiate
around the debt ceiling. That has to be dealt with
in a reasonable fashion. And by the way, I often
hear people say, well, in the past it has been
dealt with all the time. The truth of the matter is
if you look at the history, people posture about the
debt ceiling frequently, but the way the debt ceiling
often got passed was you’d stick the debt ceiling onto
a budget negotiation once it was completed —
because people figured, well, I don’t want to take a bunch of tough votes to
cut programs or raise taxes and then also have
to take a debt ceiling vote, let me do it all at once. But it wasn’t a
situation in which, what if I don’t
get what I want, then I’m going to
let us default. That’s what’s changed. And that’s what
we learned in 2011. And so, as a consequence, I said we’re not
going to do that again — not just for me,
but because future Presidents, Republican or Democrat,
should not be in a position where they have to choose
between making sure the economy stays afloat and
we avoid worldwide catastrophe, or we provide concessions to one faction of one
party in one House. But let me tell you
a lesson I did not learn. I did not learn a lesson
that we shouldn’t compromise. I still think we should. I still think there
are all kinds of issues that we should be talking about, and I don’t expect to get
100 percent of my way. And I’m still very open
to having conversations with not just the Speaker
but any Republican over there. Go ahead. The Press:
Just to clarify this — if you enter into a series
of short-term funding bills or a debt ceiling bill, you will be back in the same
place, presumably, with these, the same members of Congress. So what has changed
in the political dynamic if you do the short-term — The President:
Well, I think what
has changed is they’re aware of the fact that I’m not
budging when it comes to the full faith and credit
of the United States — that that has to be dealt with; that you don’t pay a ransom; you don’t provide concessions
for Congress doing its job and America paying its bills. And I think most
people understand that. I was at a small business
the other day and talking to a bunch
of workers, and I said, when you’re at
the plant and you’re in the middle of your job,
do you ever say to your boss, you know what, unless I get
a raise right now and more vacation pay, I’m going
to just shut down the plant — I’m not just
going to walk off the job, I’m
going to break the equipment? I said, how do you
think that would go? They all thought
they’d be fired. And I think most
of us think that. There’s nothing wrong with
asking for a raise or asking for more time off, but you
can’t burn down the plant or your office if you
don’t get your way. Well, the same
thing is true here. And I think most
Americans understand that. Thank you very much, everybody.

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