President Obama hammered Republicans for threatening to refuse to pay America's bills by raising the debt ceiling "if they don't get 100% of their way."
Obama kicked off the final press conference of his first term by outlining his second term agenda, including job growth, energy independence, immigration and guns legislation, but quickly pivoted to discuss the impending Congressional battle over raising the debt ceiling, saying "we've got to stop lurching from crisis to crisis."
"While I'm willing to compromise and find common ground over how to reduce our deficit, America cannot afford another debate with this Congress over how to pay the bills they've already racked up," Obama said. "To even entertain the idea of this happening, of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It's absurd."
"This is about paying your bills."
President Obama particularly criticized Republicans for entertaining the idea of a government shutdown or default. "Even the threat of default hurts our economy," he said. The president said he was willing to discuss ways to reduce debt, but pointed out that the November election results showed that "the American people agreed with me that we need to reduce our deficits in a balanced way."
House Speaker John Boehner interprets the public differently. "The American people do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending at the same time. The consequences of failing to increase the debt ceiling are real, but so too are the consequences of allowing our spending problem to go unresolved," he said in a statement.
The president signaled his own willingness to address deficits by noting nearly $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction already found through spending cuts, interest payments, and increased revenue. "We've made progress. We are moving towards our ultimate goal of getting to a $4 trillion reduction," he said. "We can't finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone... That's not a recipe for growth."
"To even entertain the idea of the United States not paying its bills is absurd."
Obama suggested he'd be willing to take over the job of raising the debt ceiling, if Congress won't act. "If they want to put the responsibility on me to raise the debt ceiling, I'm happy to do it," he said. "If they want to keep this responsibility then they need to get it done."
"They will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy."
The president also addressed the ongoing debate over gun violence on the one-month anniversary of the school shooting in Newtown, Ct. He discussed a handful of proposals, including stronger background checks, keeping high capacity magazines "out of the hands of folks that shouldn't have them," and an assault weapons ban, but acknowledged all those proposals would face political opposition. "Will all of them get through this Congress? I don't know. But what's uppermost in my mind is that I'm clear ... about what will work."
"If there is a step we can take that will save even one child from what happened in Newtown, we should take that step," he said.
"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 some how the federal government's about to take all your guns away." he said. "There's probably an economic element to that. It's good for business." But he insisted he had no plans to take guns from those who legally possess them to protect themselves or hunt, saying those gun owners "don't have anything to worry about."
"The issue here is not whether or not we believe in the second amendment," he explained. "The issue is: are there are some sensible steps 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 shockingly rapid fashion?"
"Surely we can do something about that."