By Roger Runningen and James Rowley - May 16, 2011 1:11 AM GMT+0800
President Barack Obama said failure to raise the U.S. debt ceiling by early August might disrupt the global financial system and plunge the nation into another recession.
If investors “around the world thought the full faith and credit of the U.S. was not being backed up, if they thought we might renege on our IOUs, it could unravel the entire financial system,” Obama said on a segment taped for today’s “Face the Nation” program on CBS. “We could have a worse recession than we’ve already had.”
Obama is reaching out to Republican and Democratic lawmakers to win approval of an increase in the debt ceiling. The government projected this month that the $14.3 trillion debt limit will be reached tomorrow. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says that while he can juggle accounts for a time, he will run out of options for avoiding default by early August.
Republicans including House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky are seeking trillions of dollars of spending cuts and no tax increases in exchange for supporting a higher debt limit. Obama on April 13 proposed a long-term deficit-reduction package of about $4 trillion over 12 years. It includes $2 trillion in spending cuts, $1 trillion in tax increases and $1 trillion in reduced interest payments.
Boehner, who in a May 9 speech demanded spending cuts greater than the amount of any debt-ceiling increase, said today that he understood “what the president was saying about jeopardizing the full faith and credit of the United States.”
“Our obligation is to raise the debt ceiling,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “But to raise the debt ceiling without dealing with the underlying problem is totally irresponsible.”
Obama appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead negotiations with congressional leaders to try to strike a deal on reducing debt and deficits. The small group of negotiators has met three times with Biden. The president held separate talks with Senate Republicans and Democrats May 11 and May 12.
“I’ve said, ‘Get them in a room, hammer out a deal, and make sure that we don’t even get close’” to defaulting on the nation’s debt, Obama said.
Debt reduction must be “balanced” and include tax increases, Obama said.
“Are we going to make sure no single group -- not seniors, not poor folks, not any single group -- is carrying the whole burden? Let’s make sure the burden is shared,” Obama said on the CBS program, which was taped May 11 in Washington for broadcast today.
Obama said he would resist cuts in such areas as medical research; infrastructure such as roads, bridges or railroads; or college loans for needy students.
“My hope is that Congress is going to say, ‘This is so serious, we can’t play politics with it,’” Obama said. “Have faith that usually after trying everything else, we end up doing the right thing.”
Obama’s statement “makes me think he is really not serious about tackling the big problems that face our country,” Boehner said. “He’s talking about it, but I am not seeing real action yet.”
Still, Boehner said he was optimistic that the talks led by Biden would yield an agreement on legislation to cut spending and extend the government’s borrowing authority.
‘Opportunity to Act’
“We don’t have to wait to the eleventh hour” like Congress did last month to extend federal spending and avoid a government shutdown, Boehner said. “But I am not going to walk away from this moment” of “opportunity to act” to make serious spending cuts, he said.
“At the end of this process, it’s going to have to come to that,” Boehner said of extending the government’s borrowing authority.
The speaker said that “for quite a while” he has privately discussed with Obama his idea for making drastic spending cuts and changes in entitlements like Medicare and other programs in tandem with raising the debt ceiling.
Boehner said he told Obama, “‘Let’s lock arms and jump out of the boat together.’ I am serious about dealing with this. And I hope he is just as serious.”
One of Boehner’s predecessors as House speaker, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Congress should “avoid default if you possibly can” but that the president shouldn’t get “a blank check.”
McConnell, appearing today on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said he wants extension of the debt limit coupled with broad- reaching fiscal reforms.
“We need to do something significant,” he said. “We need to impress the markets, impress foreign countries that we’re going to get our act together, and astonish the American people that the adults are in charge in Washington and are actually going to deal with this issue.”