Posing a hypothetical argument, the president wondered what Republicans might be saying if he were threatening to shut down the government, insisting that Congress pass gun control or immigration reform.
With the stalemate over the government shutdown continuing and the deadline to raise the debt ceiling looming, President Obama took his argument outside of Washington, giving a series of interviews with local stations. He hammered the messsage that Republicans are holding the government hostage.
“Nobody’s explained to me so far why you have to shut down the government to have a negotiation and nobody’s explained to me so far why you have to threaten the full faith and credit of the United States in order to have a negotiation,” he told Tampa’s NBC station WFLA.
He offered a hypothetical version of the debate, one where he or other Democrats refused to pass a budget unless Republicans in the House helped to pass gun control, immigration reform, or a hike on corporate income taxes.
“I think most Republicans would say ‘Well, that’s not, that’s not the right way to do things. Why are you hurting people or threatening folks just because you’re not getting your way,” he said. “That’s the situation we’re in right now.”
“We want, actually, to be focused more on some middle class priorities, early childhood education, rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our ports, making sure we’re funding basic research. There are a whole bunch of things I would like to see happen, but I’m not saying I’m going to shut down the government unless I get them.” he added later. “What I’m saying is, keep the government open and let’s negotiate and see what we can get done.”
He also pressed back against the idea that he and fellow Democrats are insisting the budget be passed exactly as they want it.
“The budget that was passed by the Democrats in the Senate was the Republican budget. It actually has the budget levels that the Republicans themselves asked for,” he said. “So it doesn’t reflect what Democrats want. Democrats have a budget that’s $70 billion higher than the Republican budget. We’ve passed the Republican budget, the only thing we’ve said is, you can’t tack on top of that repeal of the Affordable Care Act.”
He admitted that he cannot guarantee at this point that Social Security beneficiaries and others won’t see their checks stop if the government defaults, saying that Republican threats to potentially not raise the debt ceiling are “unacceptable.”
“If [a bill to raise the debt ceiling] is not passed, then you have serious questions as to whether the federal government can make payments to senior citizens, to small business people who are owed money by the federal government. And this is why we should not even be having this discussion,” he said. “This should be off the table.”
He spoke about the shutdown’s impact on the families of fallen soldiers, and the solution found to make sure that death benefits will continue while the budget impasse is negotiated.
“I just said, administratively, I’m not going to wait for Congress,” he told WFLA.
A non-profit group has offered to step in temporarily to make the payments on behalf of the government, and will be reimbursed later by the Defense Department.
NBC News spoke to the family of fallen Army special agent Joseph Peters as they prepared to retrieve his casket Wednesday.
“We don’t care about shutdowns or payouts or any of that right now,” his brother Matt Peters told NBC News. “We’re just trying to grieve.”
“It is upsetting because my husband died for his country, and now his family is left to worry,” his widow Ashley said.
When asked what he would say to those families and if he would apologize to them, Obama said: “We should have never been here in the first place.”
“The theory that we should shut down the government as a negotiation tactic should never have been done in the first place and it does a disservice to all the men and women in uniform and all those veterans who sacrificed for our freedom,” he added.