During remarks at Business Roundtable, Obama said the country may be heading toward a debt default if Republicans don't stop tying unrelated items to the otherwise "basic function" of raising the debt ceiling. The government is on track to run out of money in mid-October, and House Republican leaders said Wednesday that they'll vote as soon as next week on a bill that ties a one-year delay in Obamacare to raising the debt limit.
"You have never seen in the history of the United States ... the threat of not raising the debt ceiling being used to extort a president or a governing party, and trying to force issues that have nothing to do with the budget and have nothing to do with the debt," Obama said.
If lawmakers fail to raise the debt limit in time, the federal government won't have the authority to pay for all of the spending that Congress has authorized, and could be forced to default. Congress came dangerously close to defaulting in July 2011 as Republicans insisted on attaching spending cuts to the vote. A deal was finally cut at the 11th hour -- but because the partisan fight brought the nation to the brink, Standard & Poor's downgraded the credit rating of the United States for the first time in the nation's history.
As part of the aftermath, markets around the world as well as the three major indexes in the United States experienced their most volatile week since the 2008 financial crisis. Congress' favorability also plunged.
Speaking Wednesday, Obama said he recognizes that partisan "gamesmanship" has long been part of the process of debt ceiling negotiations. But the bottom line is that it's always gotten done, he said. Obama called on Republicans to keep the debt limit separate from any other items that require negotiations.
It's time to get back to "doing things in a way that reflect the genuine, messy negotiations of democracy but do not promise apocalypse every three months," he said. "I think this is the time for us to say once and for all we can't afford these kinds of plays."
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), pushed back on the idea that the debt ceiling has never been used to put pressure on a president on other issues. He tweeted out a link to a Senate Republican Policy Committee overview of how Congress has handled debt ceiling votes over the years. He also took a shot at Obama for boasting of the $2 trillion in spending cuts that Republicans forced into the 2011 debt deal, dubbed the Budget Control Act.
"He campaigned on the 'extortion' that he signed into law under the [Budget Control Act], he brags about the spending reductions that only came about as a result of what he now calls 'extortion,'" Stewart told The Huffington Post. "So maybe he needs to stop taking credit for something that he was 'extorted' into doing."
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), also dismissed the president's criticisms.
"Previous presidents refer to their bipartisan agreements to reduce the deficit as an 'achievement,'" Buck said. "This one calls the idea 'extortion.'"
Not surprisingly, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that the president wouldn't accept any delays to Obamacare as part of any deal.
"No," Carney said bluntly, when asked about the prospect.