Keeping up the pressure on the GOP, President Obama called a press conference Tuesday to again call on Congress to end the government shutdown and raise the debt-ceiling — and to accuse "extreme" members of the House of Representatives of extortion.
Obama said he remains willing to sit down and talk with anyone on Capitol Hill about the budget, health care, deficits or anything else – with a caveat.
“I’m not going to do it until the more extreme parts of the Republican Party stop forcing [House Speaker] John Boehner to issue threats about our economy," he said.
"We can't make extortion routine as part of our democracy."
He said he would be willing to negotiate even if the Congress passed bills funding the government and raising the debt ceiling that would only last for six to eight weeks.
With the shutdown now in its eighth day, Obama said that if Americans are upset about the consequences so far, they should be even more worried about the possibility the U.S. will go into default if an agreement on the debt ceiling isn't reached by Oct. 17.
Economic chaos would ensue, he said, with the markets doing into flux, Americans' retirement accounts and home values falling, mortgage and student loan rates rising, and recession setting in. The nation's credit-rating could be downgraded and its borrowing costs could go up.
"There's nothing fiscally responsible about that," he said.
The United States, he said, would lose standing overseas. “It makes us look like we don’t have our act together,” he said, noting that he had to skip a trip to Asia this week to negotiate a trade deal so he could deal with the crisis at home.
Obama said it would be irresponsible to downplay the seriousness of default, but also said that he has assured foreign governments who hold U.S. debt that the nation is good for any money it owes and that any damage would not be "lasting."
But, he added, "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," he said.
Obama said he doesn’t buy Boehner’s argument that he doesn’t have the votes to pass a resolution to raise the debt ceiling and called on him to just put it on the floor and force House members to take a public position.
“That will be useful information for voters to have,” he said.
The impasse, he said, is already affecting average Americans, with some federally funded Head Start programs shut down and mortgages on hold by on-edge lenders.
He did not mention another repercussion: the feds are withholding $100,000 payments that are normally wired to relatives of fallen soldiers — including the families of five killed in Afghanistan over the weekend.
The payment, known as the "death gratuity," is typically sent to families of the fallen within three days to help them cover funeral costs or travel to meet the flag-draped coffins of their loved ones.
Congress passed a law last week to pay the military during the shutdown, but Pentagon officials determined that did not cover the death gratuity, a defense official told NBC News on Tuesday.
Congressional Republicans said they were drafting legislation to restore the death gratuity.
But during the press conference, Obama said he does not support a "piecemeal" approach to temporarily funding some programs during the shutdown.
"If we do some sort of shotgun approach like that then you’ll have some programs that are highly visible that get reopened," while others languish, he said.
"We don't get to pick and choose based on which party likes what," he added.
First published October 8 2013, 12:28 PM