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Shutdown Diary: Obama Takes On The Default Deniers

At a Tuesday news conference, President Obama underscored Democrats' refusal to negotiate with Republicans on bills to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.
Charles Dharapak
At a Tuesday news conference, President Obama underscored Democrats' refusal to negotiate with Republicans on bills to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.

On Day 8 of the federal government's partial shutdown, President Obama called House Speaker John Boehner. But the morning phone call produced no movement toward resolution, according to readouts by aides to both men.

Here are some of Tuesday's news highlights:

President Obama

Obama gave his first lengthy press conference since early August, answering questions for more than an hour.

The president repeated what his aides have said recently, that he could accept a short-term debt ceiling increase if that would buy time for him, Senate Democrats and House Republicans to negotiate a longer-term agreement.

The president also said that on legislation to reopen the government, he would be willing to accept a rider requiring him to negotiate with them on areas of interest to Republicans — like the Affordable Care Act. He was clear, however, that any negotiations would be over fixing pieces of the law, not undoing it as many Republicans would like.

"If they want to specify all the items that they think need to be topic of conversation, happy to do it," Obama said. "I'm happy to sit down with them for as many hours as they want. I won't let them gut a law that is going to make sure tens of millions of people actually get health care, but I'm happy to talk about it."

Obama used the news conference to counter Republican default deniers who have argued for three years that breaching the debt ceiling wouldn't necessarily be as catastrophic as some experts insist.

"There are still some people out there who don't believe that default is a real thing. And we've been hearing that from some Republicans in Congress: that default would not be a big deal. ...

"Warren Buffett likened default to a nuclear bomb, a weapon too horrible to use," Obama said. "It would disrupt markets, it would undermine the world's confidence in America as the bedrock of the global economy, and it might permanently increase our borrowing costs which, of course, ironically would mean that it would be more expensive for us to service what debt we do have and it would add to our deficits and our debt, not decrease them."


House Speaker John Boehner responded to Obama's news conference with his own, much briefer media availability in which he continued to insist that negotiations must take place before the government is fully reopened and the debt ceiling raised.

"The president's position that we're not going to sit down to talk to you until you surrender is just not sustainable. It's not our system of government. When it comes to the debt limit, I agree with the president — we should pay our bills. I didn't come here to shut down the government. I certainly didn't come here to default on our debt.

"But when it comes to the debt limit, again, over the last 40 years, 27 times, the debt limit has been used to carry significant policy changes that would, in fact, reduce spending and put us on a saner fiscal path."

House Republicans also introduced legislation for a new bipartisan committee comprising 20 lawmakers evenly split between the House and Senate to make recommendations on a fiscal 2014 budget, the debt ceiling and spending cuts.

Democrats quickly rejected the idea, recalling the earlier fiscal supercommittee whose congressional Democratic and Republican members failed to reach agreement, resulting in across-the-board sequester cuts to a range of domestic spending programs.

Beyond The Beltway

The government shutdown has led to the Defense Department's inability to pay death benefits to the families of five U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan over the weekend. Congressional lawmakers blamed the other party.

In Utah, GOP Gov. Gary Herbert asked the federal government to let the state use its own funds to reopen the national parks in the state that have been closed by the shutdown.

The National Science Foundation said it was shutting down its three scientific stations in the Antarctic, which will prevent the arrival of hundreds of scientists who had hoped to start conducting research during the continent's spring and summer.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.
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