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Obama Warns Social Security Checks at Risk in Debt Limit Debate

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In his final news conference of his first term, Obama pushed Congress to raise the debt ceiling, saying a delay could push the nation into another recession.

President Barack Obama warned Monday that failure to quickly raise the federal debt ceiling would “wreck” the economy and hold up Social Security and veterans’ benefits.

Obama also said he would outline a series of gun violence proposals later this week after getting a report from Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and he said that there would be executive actions as well as proposals for legislation, such as an assault weapons ban and restrictions on large ammunition magazines.

But on the debt limit, Obama resurrected a warning he has used before as to how Congress’ failure would impact everyday Americans.

“If congressional Republicans refuse to pay America’s bills on time, Social Security checks and veterans benefits will be delayed,” Obama said at the last press conference of his first term.

“We might not be able to pay our troops, or honor our contracts with small-business owners. Food inspectors, air traffic controllers, specialists who track down loose nuclear materials wouldn’t get their paychecks,” he said.

The threat is aimed at upping the pressure on Congress to act or to own the political consequences.

Obama said there is no alternative to Congress authorizing more borrowing to pay the nation’s bills. He dismissed a proposal from congressional Democrats who suggested the president should cite the 14th Amendment to ignore the debt ceiling.

“There are no magic tricks here. There are no loopholes. There are no, you know, easy outs,” he said.

Obama warned of a potential new recession that would actually increase the deficit and borrowing costs across the entire economy.

“It’s absurd,” the president said.

He said repeatedly that he would be happy to talk about deficit reduction with Republicans, but not in the context of raising the debt ceiling.

“I’m happy to have that conversation. What I will not do is to have that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people — the threat that unless we get our way, unless you gut Medicare or Medicaid, or, you know, otherwise slash things that the American people don’t believe should be slashed, that we’re going to threaten to wreck the entire economy,” he said.

The president said he was convinced of the need to stop the cycle of hostage-taking now, at the end of his first term, lest it become business as usual for the rest of his tenure and for future presidents.

“We’ve got to break the habit of negotiating through crisis over and over again,” he said.

Republican leaders didn’t seem phased by Obama’s tough stance.

“The American people do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending at the same time,” Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement. “The consequences of failing to increase the debt ceiling are real, but so too are the consequences of allowing our spending problem to go unresolved.”

In a statement that came out before the president’s news conference had concluded, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the debate over the debt ceiling is the “perfect time” to cut spending.

Hill Democrats are in sync with the president on not negotiating over the debt ceiling, Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York said Monday.

“The view at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, among Democrats in both houses, is very strong, that if they want to say that, ‘In return for raising the debt ceiling, we want you to do A, B, C and D,’ that we’re not going to negotiate,” the No. 3 Senate Democratic leader said.

However, Senate Democratic leaders sent a letter to the president on Friday urging him to take “any lawful step” to unilaterally approve a debt limit hike — and others, including Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., have repeatedly urged him to do so as well.

But the White House and Treasury Department — and now the president — have ruled out options such as using the 14th Amendment or minting a $1 trillion coin in order to extend the government’s borrowing capacity without congressional approval.

Asked about the difficulty of passing gun legislation, Obama said lawmakers are going to have to look into their consciences and that the concern that the federal government would “take all your guns away” was unwarranted.

“The issue here is not whether or not we believe in the Second Amendment. The issue is: Are there some sensible steps that we can take to make sure that somebody like the individual in Newtown can’t walk into a school and gun down a bunch of children in a — in a shockingly rapid fashion? And surely we can do something about that,” he said.

Obama also reacted to the repeated criticism that he doesn’t socialize enough with Congress and particularly with the GOP.

He joked that he might have more time to play cards with people now that his daughters are older and want less to do with him.

Obama also said he regularly has events with members of Congress at the White House and is very nice to them, only to have them go to the floor of the House and call him a big-spending Socialist.

He noted that members don’t always come to the White House when invited, which he suspects is because of concerns about facing primary challenges. On the big issues, Congress will change when the American people reject lawmakers who keep uncompromising positions and reward those looking for common ground, he said.

“That’ll be true whether I’m the life of the party or a stick in the mud,” he said.

Meredith Shiner contributed to this report.

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