David Jackson, USA TODAY
President Obama said Tuesday his staff is "exploring all contingencies" to avoid a government default, but stressed that Congress can head off economic calamity by simply raising the debt ceiling.
"There is no magic wand that allows us to wish away the chaos that could result if -- for the first time in our history -- we don't pay our bills on time," Obama said during a news conference at the White House.
On the eighth day of a government shutdown, Obama used the traditional forum of a news conference to deliver a familiar message to House Speaker John Boehner and other congressional Republicans: No negotiations until the government is re-opened and the debt ceiling is risked.
As Republicans insist on delaying parts of his his health care plan as part of any new spending plan, Obama said that "we can't make extortion routine as part of our democracy."
Obama addressed reporters a few hours after delivering the same news to Boehner in a morning phone call.
During the news conference, Obama said:
-- The shutdown forced him to skip an economic summit in Asia, giving China and other trade competitors the chance to say the U.S. doesn't have its act together.
"I'm sure the Chinese don't mind that I'm not there," Obama said, though he added he doesn't think his absence will do "lasting damage."
-- Suggested the Supreme Court uphold new rules on political campaign contributions as part of a pending case; Obama has criticized previous court rulings in campaign finance cases.
-- Vowed that recently captured al-Qaeda suspect Abu Anas al-Libi will be brought to justice in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa.
While calling for an immediate end to the shutdown, Obama is also looking toward an Oct. 17 deadline for increasing the nation's $16.7 trillion debt ceiling, the law that gives the government authority to borrow money to pay its bills.
Refusal to raise the debt ceiling would lead to default, Obama said.
The president criticized congressional Republicans for suggesting that the government could get around default, or defer some bills. He said that's like saying, "we should test it out -- let's take default out for a spin and see how it rides."
Noting that the GOP has traditionally been the party of business, Obama said "there's no businessperson out here who thinks this wouldn't be a big deal, not one."
In discussing suggested alternatives to a debt ceiling hike, Obama said he probably lacks the power under the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution to pay the debt himself.
Obama also questioned a proposal, known as prioritization, that would have the U.S pay the interest on its debts and defer other bills. He declined to discuss specifics, saying Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will testify before the Senate on Thursday.
"We plan for every contingency," Obama repeated. "So obviously, you know, worst-case scenario, there are things that we will try to do -- but I will repeat, I don't think any option is good."
Obama mocked other suggestions, saying at one point: "Well, the president can roll out a big coin" -- a reference to a suggestion floated from time-to-time that the government could mint a trillion-dollar coin.