President Obama held another White House press conference this morning, and fielded seven reporters' questions -- four of them about the debt ceiling.
By the time the president was making his case for the fourth time, the responses started getting a little repetitious, but Obama's line didn't change: we've already made enormous progress on debt reduction, he's willing to do more, but a hostage strategy based on the debt ceiling isn't acceptable.
In fact, the president spent a fair amount of time trying to explain to the public what some reporters occasionally overlook:
"The debt ceiling is not a question of authorizing more spending. Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize more spending. It simply allows the country to pay for spending that Congress has already committed to.
"These are bills that have already been racked up, and we need to pay them. So 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. [...]
"So to even entertain the idea of this happening, of the United States of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It's absurd.... And Republicans in Congress have two choices here: They can act responsibly and pay America's bills or they can act irresponsibly and put America through another economic crisis. But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy. The financial well-being of the American people is not leverage to be used. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip."
It doesn't sound like he's ready to cave. On the contrary, it sounds like the president is issuing a not-so-subtle challenge to congressional Republicans: do your duty or we'll all suffer the consequences.
The president went on to say:
"[T]he issue here is whether or not America pays its bills. We are not a deadbeat nation. And so there's a very simple solution to this. Congress authorizes us to pay our bills.
"Now if the House and the Senate want to give me the authority so that they don't have to take these tough votes, if they want to put the responsibility on me to raise the debt ceiling, I'm happy to take it. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, had a proposal like that last year, and I'm happy to accept it.
"But if they want to keep this responsibility, then they need to go ahead and get it done. And you know, there are no magic tricks here. There are no loopholes. There are no, you know, easy outs. This is a matter of Congress authorizes spending. They order me to spend. They tell me: You need to fund our Defense Department at such-and-such a level. You need to send Social Security checks. You need to make sure that you are paying to care for our veterans.
"They lay all this out for me, and -- because they have the spending power. And so I am required by law to go ahead and pay these bills.
"Separately, they also have to authorize a raising of the debt ceiling in order to make sure that those bills are paid. And so what Congress can't do is tell me to spend X and then say, but we're not going to give you the authority to go ahead and pay the bills."
Obama added that he's ready to negotiate on debt reduction, and he's even open to entitlement changes, but he doesn't intend to reward Congress for doing what it must do anyway.
What's more, of particular interest was the president highlighting Republicans' philosophical goals, which have less to do with debt reduction, and more to do with undermining public institutions.
"[I]t seems as if what's motivating and propelling at this point some of the House Republicans is more than simply deficit reduction. They have a particular vision about what government should and should not do. So they are suspicious about government's commitments, for example, to make sure that seniors have decent health care as they get older. They have suspicions about Social Security. They have suspicions about whether government should make sure that kids in poverty are getting enough to eat or whether we should be spending money on medical research. So they've got a particular view of what government should do and should be.
"And that view was rejected by the American people when it was debated during the presidential campaign. I think every poll that's out there indicates that the American people actually think our commitment to Medicare or to education is really important, and that's something that we should look at as a last resort in terms of reducing the deficit, and it makes a lot more sense for us to close, for example, corporate loopholes before we go to putting a bigger burden on students or seniors."
I'm glad Obama reminded the political world of this basic truth; I get the sense folks sometimes forget what the driving motivations are behind many of our ongoing partisan fights.