U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday had strong words for Congress, demanding action to raise the nation's debt ceiling in hopes of averting another showdown with Republican lawmakers that could result in a government default.
"We are not a deadbeat nation. And so there's a very simple solution to this. Congress authorizes us to pay our bills," Obama said.
He called lawmakers irresponsible for even considering holding the issue hostage to achieve spending cuts, noting the move was necessary to pay bills already accrued by Congress.
"To even entertain the idea of this happening, of the United States of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It's absurd," Obama said.
Congress can either "act responsibly" or unleash a series of negative consequences that could lead to another economic crisis. He noted the loss of the country's AAA credit rating following an earlier standoff over the debt limit.
"They will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy," he said. "The financial well-being of the American people is not leverage to be used. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip."
The debt limit must be raised beyond the current $16.4 trillion by mid-February to continue financing the 1-trillion-dollar annual deficit, the Congressional Budget Office said.
Republicans in Congress have threatened to tie any increase in the debt ceiling to demands for spending cuts, after they were forced to give ground on tax increases in a showdown over the austerity measures known as the fiscal cliff earlier this month. Reports have indicated the party could allow a default or a government shutdown in a bid for leverage on their position.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, responded to Obama's remarks, noting public support for not raising the debt ceiling without also cutting spending.
"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. "Without meaningful action, the debt will continue to act as an anchor on our economy, costing American jobs and endangering our children's future."
He said the house would pass "responsible legislation that controls spending, meets our nation's obligations and keeps the government running, and we will insist that the Democratic majority in Washington do the same."
Mitch McConnell, the leader of minority Republicans in the Senate, noted the debt limit talks were the perfect time to make sure Obama and his fellow Democrats get serious about spending.
In the final press conference of his first four-year term in office, Obama focused heavily on the fiscal challenges facing the country, including automatic spending cuts due to hit the government in March.
He also vowed to take action on gun violence following the deadly shooting at an elementary school last month. He said he would review proposals put forward by Vice President Joe Biden and issue recommendations later this week, leaving open the possibility of a ban on assault weapons among other solutions.
Obama pointed to progress already made in reducing spending and said deficit reduction would continue as Congress decides how to proceed with the automatic spending cuts, with the goal of replacing them with more gradual measures. He called for a "balance approach" and said his reelection was evidence the American people agree.
"Right now our economy is growing, and our businesses are creating new jobs," he said. "So we are poised for a good year - if we make smart decisions, sound investments, and as long as Washington politics don't get in the way of America's progress."
Congress reached agreement on taxes in the fiscal cliff negotiations, but postponed until March severe spending cuts that observers warn would devastate government programmes.
Obama will begin his second term in office on Sunday, with a pomp-filled public ceremony on Monday.
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