WHITE HOUSE —
In the final news conference of his first term, a week ahead of the formal inauguration of his second term in office, President Barack Obama underscored the dangers of another fight with Republicans in Congress over raising the U.S. debt ceiling. The president also spoke about gun violence.
In his 21st formal full-scale news conference, Obama underscored his refusal to negotiate with Congress over the debt ceiling.
The national debt stands at $16.4 trillion. Lawmakers must raise it, or risk another damaging downgrade of the U.S. credit rating as occurred in 2011.
Republicans say they will insist on spending cuts in exchange for debt ceiling vote.
Obama says he is willing to negotiate over deficit reductions, but that Congress is responsible for ensuring that the U.S. pays its bills. He warned Monday against another "self-inflicted wound" on the economy.
"What I will not do is to have that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people [with Republicans saying], 'Unless we get our way, unless you gut Medicare or Medicaid or otherwise slash things that the American people don't believe should be slashed, that we're going to threaten to wreck entire economy,'" Obama said.
Saying America is "not a deadbeat nation," Obama said if Congress wants to turn authority over to him for debt-ceiling increases, he would happily accept it.
Obama and Congress are also likely to battle over more than $100 billion in mandatory government spending cuts, called a sequester, that will occur in March after an agreement reached in December expires.
Asked about the threat of a federal government shutdown over the debt ceiling, Obama said a shutdown would be "profoundly damaging" to the economy. Americans, he said, would blame all of Washington.
The speaker of the House of Representatives, Republican John Boehner, responded by saying Americans do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending.
Boehner said the Republican-controlled House would pass legislation to control spending, meet obligations and keep the government running and insist that Democrats do the same.
Watch a related report by VOA's Meredith Buel
In a news conference dominated by domestic issues, the other major topic was gun violence in the wake of the massacre of 26 children and adults in a Connecticut school last month.
The National Rifle Association, the nation's largest pro-gun organization, is pushing members of Congress to reject any legislation to strengthen gun controls.
The NRA accuses the White House of attacking the Constitution’s Second Amendment "right to bear arms" protection for all. Obama rejected that, saying pro-gun groups are trying to fan fears that Americans who use guns properly will lose them.
"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 [Connecticut] can't walk into a school and gun down a bunch of children in a shockingly rapid fashion, and surely we can do something about that," Obama said.
Obama was meeting Monday with Vice President Joe Biden to review the recommendations of a task force set up after the Connecticut shootings last month, and will speak about the findings later this week.