Image: Barack Obama
Charles Dharapak  /  AP
President Barack Obama tweets during a "Twitter Town Hall" in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 6, 2011.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 7/6/2011 4:55:01 PM ET 2011-07-06T20:55:01

During a Twitter-powered town hall discussion on Wednesday, President Barack Obama said Congress "shouldn't be toying with" the debt limit.

Asked whether he'd "issue an executive order to raise the debt ceiling," the president said "we shouldn't even get to" that constitutional argument.

Obama was referring to a section of the Fourteenth Amendment which would theoretically allow him to disregard the debt limit and to keep selling Treasury bonds to finance government operations.

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"The debt ceiling should not be something used as a gun against the head of the American people," said the president, who contended his opponents were using it as a bargaining chip to extend tax cuts for the wealthy.

Said the official response tweet from the White House, summarizing the president's argument: "US default can't be threat for protection of tax loopholes for very richest Americans."

Obama is seeking to reduce the deficit, in part, through new tax revenue raised by closing loopholes and tax subsidies. Among the loopholes cited by the White House are tax benefits for corporate jets.

He also has called for ending subsidies to oil and gas companies, a proposal that would generate about $40 billion in revenue over 10 years. Republicans have opposed measures that raise taxes.

Video: Obama takes questions via Twitter (on this page)

In response to a question about "mistakes" made by his administration, the president said that even he "did not realize the magnitude" of the recession. "I think people may not have been prepared," Obama said.

He added that a depressed housing market has been one of the more "stubborn" consequences of the economic downturn. Obama also defended his stimulus program as "the right thing to do."

Twitter selected the questions for the president from among the thousands of inquires submitted from people across the country, including Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who asked Obama, "Where are the jobs?"

"This is a slightly skewed question," Obama said of the inquiry.

The president insisted that the country is creating jobs, though not at a satisfactory pace. He said there was more that the government could do to boost the economy, but added that he hasn't always received the Republican support to do so.

On cutting defense spending, he cautioned: "We have to do all of this in a fairly gradual way." On reducing foreign aid, he said lots of people have exaggerated ideas about what the U.S. spends overseas.

Twitter users had to keep their questions to the social networking site's 140-character limit. But the president had no such restrictions. He answered in his trademark, lengthy form, while the White House Twitter-handle posted an official summation.

The town hall, found at http://askobama.twitter.com, marked the first White House "Tweetup" — that's an in-person gathering of people who are connected through Twitter.

The White House sees social media as an opportunity for the president to interact with Americans directly, particularly the younger and more tech-savvy part of the electorate, as his re-election campaign ramps up.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Obama takes questions via Twitter

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