WASHINGTON -- A self-described "exasperated" President Barack Obama told Wall Street CEOs on Wednesday that they should not take for granted that the Republican-led House of Representatives will raise the nation's debt ceiling by Oct. 17.
"I think this time is different," the president said, when asked by CNBC's John Harwood whether the financial markets were right to assume that the upcoming conflict would ultimately get resolved in time. "I think they should be concerned."
Speaking less than two hours before he was set to meet with congressional leadership to discuss both the debt ceiling and a way out of the current impasse over the government shutdown, the president argued that he had already sacrificed a lot during these negotiations, having agreed to fund the government at sequestration levels. And while he said would be willing to consider changes to his health care law -- a key demand of House Republicans -– he refused to do it during the fight over the shutdown or debt limit.
"I have bent over backwards to work with the Republican Party, and have purposely kept my rhetoric down," he said.
On a macro level, the president stressed that one of the reasons he could not bend much further was that it would forever institutionalize the concept of governing by hostage taking:
What we're debating right now is keeping the government open for two months. We would then be going through this exact same thing in the middle of Christmas shopping season, which I don't think many businesses would be interested in. We saw what happened in 2011. And then we'd have to go through it again six months from now and six months after that. And one thing that I know the American people are tired of, and I have to assume the vast majority of businesses are tired of, is this constant governing from crisis to crisis. So in that sense, do we need to break that fever? Absolutely. We have to stop doing that. Let's get a budget that allows people to plan over the long term that allows us to deal with our fiscal problems in a sensible, reasonable way. Even on an issue like health care, if they want to give me specific suggestions around how we can improve delivery of health insurance to people who need it, people with preexisting conditions, I'm happy to talk to them about it. But I'm not going to do it subject to the threat that somehow America defaults on its obligations.
On a more substantive matter, the president didn't formally rule out the idea of trading entitlement reforms for spending increases as a part of broader budget talks (should they ever occur). Instead, he sidestepped Harwood's question. Obama said that he would not raise tax rates on individual income, but he stressed that he would like to raise revenue through tax reform to pay for some economic stimulus, such as infrastructure spending.