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Obama: I Will Not Let Deficit Talks Be Tied To Another Debt Ceiling Debate

NPR icon by Mark Memmott

President Obama is this morning holding what will likely be the last formal news conference of his first term in office.

He's meeting with reporters in the East Room of the White House. Among the subjects expected to come up: The prospect of another battle over raising the federal debt ceiling; the state of the economy; and gun laws in the wake of last month's mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.

We'll live blog as he speaks. You can listen by clicking on the audio player at the top of this post.

Update at 12:24 p.m. ET. "All Of Washington" Would Be Blamed For A Shutdown:

If Republicans do insist that the federal debt ceiling won't be increased unless Democrats agree to additional spending cuts, the president says, "I suspect the American people would blame all of Washington for not being able to get its act together."

But if that happens, he makes the case that it will be Republicans' fault. "Ultimately, Congress makes the decisions about whether we spend money and ... keep this government open," he says. And, "they have the votes in the House of Representatives" to potentially force a shutdown over the debt ceiling issue.

"My hope is that common sense prevails," Obama adds, as he again makes the case that increasing the debt ceiling only allows the government to pay bills that it has already incurred — not to increase future spending.

Update at 12:15 p.m. ET. Crisis Negotiating Has To End:

The nation has to "break the habit of negotiating through crisis, over and over again," the president says, as he again makes the case that talks about deficit reduction should not be tied to a debate over raising the federal borrowing limit.

Update at 12:10 p.m. ET. Gun Control Opponents Are "Ginning Up Fear":

Asked about the surge in gun sales since the Dec. 14 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the president says "we've seen for some time now that those who oppose any common sense gun control or gun safety measures have a pretty effective way of ginning up fear on the part of gun owners that somehow the federal government is going to take their guns away."

Such fears, he says, are unfounded.

Update at 11:59 a.m. ET. No Negotiations That Put "A Gun To The Head Of The American People":

Staying on the subject of what's expected to be another tough battle over raising the federal debt ceiling, the president says "what I will not do is have that negotiation with a gun to the American people" — referring to the possibility that the government might go into default or have to shutdown because his opponents won't approve an increase in that borrowing limit.

You can't go out to dinner, "eat all you want and then leave without paying the check," the president says, as he again argues that all increasing the debt ceiling does is let the government pay bills that Congress has already racked up.

Update at 11:56 a.m. ET. "We Are Not A Deadbeat Nation":

Back on the issue of raising the federal debt ceiling, the president says "we are not a deadbeat nation." He's asked if he has a "plan B" should Congress not give him the authority to increase that borrowing limit. The president doesn't discuss such a scenario. He does, though, say he would welcome it if Congress stopped reserving the power to vote on raising the debt limit. Repeating that the limit only serves to give him the authority to pay bills that Congress has already racked up, Obama says: "if the House and Senate want to give me the authority so that they don't have to take these tough (debt ceiling) votes ... I'm happy to take it."

Update at 11:50 a.m. ET. On Gun Laws:

Asked if he will push for a ban on assault weapons such as the one used in last month's school shooting in Connecticut, Obama says "my starting point is not to worry about the politics ... but what makes sense." He mentions the need for "stronger background checks," an assault weapons ban that is "meaningful" and restrictions on or the banning of high-capacity gun magazines. Will such measures get through Congress? Obama says he does not know.

Update at 11:46 a.m. ET. Starting With The Economy, Taxes And Spending:

The nation is "poised for a good year ... if we make smart decisions and sound investments," the president says.

And, Obama says as he turns to a familiar argument, "we can't finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone."

The American people, he declares, "agree with me."

Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, however, have said the administration hasn't been serious about spending cuts and that they consider the debate about taxes to be over. Some want to tie negotiations over spending to raising the government's debt ceiling.

Turning to that upcoming debate about raising the debt ceiling, the president says that is not "a question of authorizing more spending. ... It simply allows the country to pay for spending that the Congress has already committed to. ... These are bills that have already been racked up."

It is "irresponsible" and "absurd," Obama says, for any lawmaker to talk of sending the government into default during another argument over the debt ceiling and spending.

Update at 11:39 a.m. ET. It's Begun.

Update at 10:45 a.m. ET. Delayed To 11:30 A.M. ET:

The White House just said the news conference is now set to begin at 11:30 a.m. ET, not 11:15 a.m. ET it initially said. We've updated the top of this post to reflect that news.

Update at 10:35 a.m. ET. Will Call For Increase Of Debt Ceiling:

The president, "plans to call on Congress to raise the debt limit" during his news conference, The Washington Post reports. It cites "a White House official" as its source. Obama has said several times recently that he will not go through another set of negotiations over the debt ceiling like those in 2011 when the federal government almost had to shut down and nearly went into default. But as NPR's John Ydstie said Saturday, "Republicans say they'll use the threat of default to get more spending cuts from the White House."

As we've said before, the government is due to hit its borrowing limit in mid-February. It's not going to try the much-discussed (but never really serious) $1 trillion platinum coin solution.

Update at 10:15 a.m. ET. NPR's On-Air Coverage:

Starting at 11:20 a.m. ET, Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep will host live coverage of the news conference for NPR. Several NPR correspondents will join him for analysis before and after the event: Scott Horsley, who covers the White House; Carrie Johnson, who covers the justice department; Tamara Keith, who covers Congress; Michele Keleman, who covers the state department; and Ted Robbins from NPR's national desk. (Note: The coverage was initially set to start at 11 a.m ET. But when the White House delayed the start of the news conference to 11:30 a.m. ET, NPR pushed back the start of its coverage to 11:20 a.m ET.)

We will put an audio player at the top of this post for those who want to listen. To find an NPR station that will be broadcasting the coverage, click here.

Of course, the news conference will be carried on the cable news channels and streamed by the White House.

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