WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama went on the offensive Monday, using a rare press conference to repeatedly try and leave Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans holding the bag on the impending debt limit crisis.
In a 40-plus minute press conference, Obama repeatedly cast the fight over the debt limit as a simple question of whether the nation will make good on its debts or become a "dead beat nation."
To hear Obama tell it, he's simply trying to pay the country's bills.
"Republicans in Congress have two choices here," the president said. "They can act responsibly and pay America's bills. Or they can act irresponsibly and send America into another economic crisis." He added, "To even entertain the idea of this happening, of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It's absurd."
"The full faith and credit of the united states of America is not a bargaining chip," Obama said. "And they better choose quickly, because time is running out."
Obama, who has spent the better part of the last two years in hand-to-hand combat with Republicans, also demanded that Congress come to the table to try and find long-term solutions to the nation's spending and debt problems.
"We've got to stop lurching from crisis to crisis to crisis … I'm not going to have a monthly or every three months conversations about whether we are going to pay our bills," he said.
But even as he was calling for cooperation, Obama took a shot at Republicans. "We just had an entire campaign about [spending and the debt]. And by the way, the American people agreed with me … [but] in spite of that conversation and in spite the election results, the position taken by some Republicans is 'no, we have to do it our way, and if we don't we won't pay the nation's bills.'"
Obama, who — with a lot of help from Boehner — managed to successfully cast Republicans as the villains during fiscal cliff negotiations, is clearly hoping to keep the GOP on its heels, at one point accusing the party of wanting to abandon the elderly, the poor and the sick.
"They have suspicions about social security. They have suspicions about whether government should make sure kids in poverty have enough to eat, they have suspicions about medical research … They have a particular view of what government should be … that view was defeated during the presidential campaign," Obama said.
The attacks, while popular with liberals, are really aimed directly at convincing independents. Obama and his party have in the past have not only agreed to tying spending cuts to the debt ceiling, they've campaigned on them. And despite the rhetoric, the public supports reducing spending, even if they don't want any of the spending they approve of being cut.
As a result, Obama's hopes of turning the debt ceiling debate fully against Republicans hinges on whether he can make the fight their fault.
"America cannot afford another debate with this Congress about whether or not to pay the bills they've already racked up," Obama said.
"We are not a dead beat nation. There's a very simple solution to this. Congress authorizes us to pay our bills."
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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