Obama to Congress: 'We Are Not a Deadbeat Nation'

President urges Congress to "pay our bills," warns of threat from default.

January 14, 2013, 10:23 AM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14, 2012 -- President Obama says the U.S. economy is "poised for a good year" but that progress could be threatened by political brinksmanship over the nation's debt limit.

"While I'm willing to compromise and find common ground over how to reduce our deficits, America cannot afford another debate with this Congress about whether or not they should pay the bills they've already racked up," Obama said at a White House news conference.

"We are not a deadbeat nation," he said. "The consequences of us not paying our bills would be disastrous."

Lawmakers have until the end of February to raise the nation's $16.4 trillion debt limit and address the delayed $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to defense and domestic spending.

Failure to raise the debt limit would set the stage for a U.S. default on its loan obligations or force immediate cuts to government spending that could threaten hundreds of thousands of federal employees and beneficiaries of government aid, including Social Security recipients and active-duty military personnel.

Republican congressional leaders have said they plan to use the debate on a debt-limit increase to extract spending cuts from the Obama administration. They note a legislative precedent, including most recently in 2011, of coupling the debt limit increase with deficit-reduction legislation.

"The president and his allies need to get serious about spending, and the debt-limit debate is the perfect time for it," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in response to Obama's remarks.

"We are hoping for a new seriousness on the part of the president with regard to the single biggest issue confronting the country," he said. "And we look forward to working with him to do something about this huge, huge problem."

Obama says he will "not negotiate" on an increase to the debt limit, which covers spending obligations that have already been passed into law, insisting that the issue should be independent of a debate on new limits on future spending.

"The financial well-being of the American people is not leverage to be used," Obama said. "The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip."

The White House said the news conference would be Obama's last of his first term, coming six days before the inauguration and at a critical juncture in the ongoing fight with Congress on federal deficits and debt.

It also comes as Vice President Joe Biden presents Obama with his task force's recommendations for curbing gun violence in the wake of the deadly Newtown, Conn., shooting.

Obama said he has received a list of "sensible, common-sense steps" that could be taken through executive action or legislation to reduce violence and plans to give the public a "fuller presentation" later this week.

As for the surge in gun sales across the country, including in Connecticut, the president said it was a trend driven by irrational fear about what he's going to do.

"Those who oppose any common-sense gun control or gun-safety measures have a pretty effective way of ginning up fear on the part of gun owners that, somehow, the federal government's about to take all your guns away," Obama said.

"And you know, there's probably an economic element to that. It obviously is good for business."

Obama said his administration has not infringed on gun rights and would continue to uphold the rights of responsible gun owners, "people who have a gun for protection, for hunting, for sportsmanship. They don't have anything to worry about."

Gun Rules Face NRA Opposition

The recommendations are expected to include requiring background checks for all gun purchases; limiting the number of bullets allowed in magazines; and a ban on so-called assault weapons.

All measures on the table are opposed by gun-rights advocates and the National Rifle Association.

"We know what works and what doesn't work," NRA president David Keene told CNN Sunday. "And we are not willing to compromise on people's rights when there is no evidence that doing so is going to accomplish the purpose."

The group appears to have a majority of Congress on its side, with 288 members of the House and Senate holding an "A" rating from the NRA for opposing any and all gun control measures.

Asked Sunday whether he thinks an assault weapons ban can pass Congress -- and whether it should pass --Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona answered both with a simple, unwavering "no."

A ban on the sale of some assault-style weapons was enacted in 1994 but allowed to expire a decade later. Several subsequent attempts to reinstate the measure have failed, in large part because of advocacy by the powerful NRA.

But even some long-time gun-rights advocates say everything should be on the table -- including possible limits on arms sales -- after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary.

"We have to change the culture of mass violence we have," said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said on ABC's "This Week." "If you think it's only about guns and that would change the culture, you'd be wrong."

As the federal government weighs action on guns, many state and local governments are pushing ahead with new measures of their own.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said today he would ask the city pension funds to divest from any investments in companies that manufacture guns, adding that he would "lead a charge" among all mayors to tackle the issue.

In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley announced proposed legislation that would impose some of the most sweeping new restrictions on gun sales in the United States, requiring prospective gun buyers to provide fingerprints to state police, undergo a background check and complete a mandatory gun-safety course in order to obtain an owners permit.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last week made public calls for new measures to curb gun violence in their states.

ABC News' Mary Bruce contributed to this report.

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