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Obama: End Shutdown, Raise Debt Ceiling, Then We'll Talk


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

This afternoon, President Obama spent an hour answering questions from reporters at the White House. He, again, urged Republicans to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling. He also said he'll negotiate with the GOP on anything but not while the nation's economic credibility is on the line.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: 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 the price then I'm going to burn down your house.

BLOCK: NPR's Ari Shapiro was in the briefing room, he has this report.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: This news conference comes at just about the halfway point between the start of the government shutdown and the end of the nation's borrowing authority. Obama hoped the shutdown would never happen. He says the latter crisis of defaulting on the nation's bills must never happen.

OBAMA: 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 Buffet likened default it to a nuclear bomb, a weapon too horrible to use.

SHAPIRO: The Treasury Department says on October 17th, the government will no longer have the ability to borrow money to pay its bills. That could lead the U.S. to default on its debts. More and more Republicans are asking whether blowing through that deadline is really so bad. They say the dire warnings amount to rumors and fear mongering. Obama recognized that chatter and insisted that failing to raise the debt ceiling could create another recession.

OBAMA: 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.

SHAPIRO: A few hours before this news conference, Obama spoke with House Speaker John Boehner. Based on descriptions from both sides of the conversation, nobody's position has changed. But there might be a glimmer of hope. This afternoon, Obama said if Republicans lift this threat for a short while, even if they only fund the government and raise the debt ceiling for a few weeks or months, he'll meet them for negotiations.

OBAMA: 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 Treasury to pay our bills on time.

SHAPIRO: While he expressed hope that Congress will do what he wants, he also said the administration is, quote, "exploring all contingencies." And he said Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will give Congress more detail in a hearing on Thursday.

OBAMA: Let me be clear: no option is good in that scenario. There is no silver bullet. There is 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.

SHAPIRO: He firmly ruled out taking any unilateral action to raise the debt ceiling. Obama said if he used the 14th Amendment to make an end run around Congress, as some as have suggested, the move would get tied up in litigation, and at the minimum, it would make people buying Treasury bills nervous. At this moment, Obama was scheduled to be in Asia, attending some important trade summits. He called off that trip to deal with these crises. And he said that kind of last minute cancellation does real damage to American credibility abroad.

OBAMA: 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, you know, 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.

SHAPIRO: Obama said the U.S. can bounce back from this sort of thing once or twice, but not all the time.

OBAMA: 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.

SHAPIRO: Sounding rueful, he said, at some point, we've got to break these habits. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.