He said he will not negotiate with Republicans when it comes to a cornerstone of his health care law, and he will not negotiate when it comes to another congressional battle to raise the debt ceiling in a little more than two weeks.
“This perpetual cycle of brinksmanship and crisis has to end once and for all,” Obama said.
The president also spoke about income inequality, his relationship with GOP leaders and how negotiations over the debt limit change the nature of our democracy.
We’ll leave you with four excerpts of the interview, airing today on Morning Edition:
On whether he’d negotiate over raising the debt ceiling, or stand firm and risk defaulting on the country’s debt
Absolutely, I will not negotiate. And the reason, Steve, is because if we establish a pattern whereby one faction of one party controlling one chamber in Congress can threaten default, that the United States of America is no longer meeting its obligations and fulfilling the full faith and credit of the United States unless they get 100 percent of what they want, then we’ve established a pattern that fundamentally changes the nature of our government. At that point, any president — not just me — any president is subject to that kind of blackmail continuously.
If you had a Republican president in here and a Democratic speaker said, “We’re not going to raise the debt ceiling unless you pass background checks on guns. We’re not going to pass the debt ceiling unless you raise the corporate income tax by 30 percent,” you know, that Republican president would find him- or herself in a similar position. That’s not how our Constitution was designed. Raising the debt ceiling is not raising the debt; it is simply saying Congress is authorizing the Treasury to pay for those things that Congress has already approved.
On whether he’s willing to delay the implementation of Obamacare’s individual mandate, which compels all Americans to have health insurance
Steve, let’s be clear: We’re not going to delay the Affordable Care Act. There are millions of Americans right now who do not have health insurance. And they are finally, after decades, going to be in a position where they can get affordable health care, just like everybody else. And that means that their families, their kids, themselves, they’ve got the basic security that you and I enjoy.
And the notion that we would even delay them getting that kind of peace of mind, potentially going to a doctor to get treated for illnesses that they currently have, simply because the Republicans have decided ideologically that they’re opposed to the Affordable Care Act, is not something that we’re going to be discussing.
Steve: You’re saying that even a larger budget deal, this is not on the table — the individual mandate must go into effect immediately?
Obama: The individual mandate is the only way that you can assure that people with pre-existing conditions are able to get health care like everybody else. And the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that you should not be barred from getting health insurance because of a pre-existing condition, partly because people understand that the majority of Americans over 50 have pre-existing conditions; huge swaths of the population right now, if they lost their job, would have trouble buying insurance on the open market, because of those pre-existing conditions. And they understand that we should not have a system in which people are regularly going to the emergency room, driving up costs for everybody else, because they haven’t acted responsibly.
On his relationship with congressional leaders
I like Speaker Boehner. I like Mitch McConnell. I think they are, you know, in challenging positions because right now they have been unwilling to say no to the most extreme parts of their caucus. And at the point where they’re willing to say no to the most extreme parts of their caucus, I think that there are a whole bunch of Republicans both in the Senate and the House who recognize this is a bad strategy. They’ve said so publicly. I’m in conversations with those senators on a regular basis, and some of those House members, and they recognize that the greatest country on Earth should not be doing business this way.
And I think if John Boehner stood up and said, we’re going to make sure that the government stays open, we’re going to make sure that basic government functions are being carried out, we’re going to make sure that America pays its bills on time, like we always have throughout our history, but I’m still going to take principled stands on a whole range of issues where I differ with the president, I think the vast majority of American people and the majority of Republicans would say that’s the kind of leadership we expect.
Steve: Would he lose his job?
Obama: I don’t think he would. But it requires some willingness on his part to put the long-term interests of the country ahead of short-term political interests. Ironically, over time, I actually think that would be good politics.
On whether the policies of the Federal Reserve are contributing to deepening income inequality
We have dug ourselves out of a deep hole, and the economy now has grown. We’ve created jobs for 42 consecutive months. We’ve created 7.5 million new jobs. Manufacturing’s come back in ways that many people would not have anticipated. The deficit, which was the main rationale back in 2011 for Republicans to engage in this brinksmanship, has gone down faster than any time since World War II and has been cut by more than half since I came into office.
So when you combine that with the fact that we’re producing more energy than ever before, that we still have the most creative businesses in the world, the most creative and effective and productive workforce in the world, we’ve got all the ingredients we need to succeed.
What’s holding us back are the bad policy decisions that have been forced on the American people by a faction of the Republican Party. And if we can just get out of gridlock and stalemate mode, make some basic decisions, deal with our long-term debts but recognize that we also have to invest in what it takes to grow the middle class right here and right now, then the burden won’t be all on the Fed. The Fed won’t have to take as many extraordinary measures to make up for the failures of the political system. And now is the time for us to do that because …
Steve: Has the delay in choosing a new chairman hurt the Fed?
Obama: No, because I think that Ben Bernanke’s done an outstanding job. He’s maintained confidence. And whoever I appoint I think will continue many of the smart policies that Ben Bernanke’s made. But Ben Bernanke himself has said that his job would be a whole lot easier and the next Fed chairman’s job would be a whole lot easier if Congress started doing what it’s supposed to be doing.