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Obama On Debt Ceiling: Republicans Would Be 'Crazy' To Threaten Default

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama warned Republicans Friday not to pursue another debt ceiling showdown, standing by his position that he won't negotiate over raising the nation's borrowing cap.

During a press conference to mark the end of the year, CNN's Brianna Keilar asked Obama to respond to recent comments from House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that congressional Republicans would seek concessions in exchange for increasing the debt limit in February. The president, who has maintained a hardline position on the debt ceiling over the last year, seemed tired of the threats.

"Oh, Brianna, you know the answer to this question," Obama said. "No, we're not going to negotiate with Congress to pay the bills that it has accrued."

He then switched gears to the bipartisan budget deal brokered by Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), which was passed by both chambers of Congress over the last week.

"I want to emphasize the positive as we enter the holiday season," Obama said of the agreement, which averts a potential government shutdown in January and reverses some of the budget cuts under sequestration for the next two years.

"It was an honest conversation. They operated in good faith, and given how far apart the parties have been on fiscal issues, they should take pride in what they did," Obama said of Murray and Ryan. "I hope that creates a good pattern for next year, where we work together on at least the things we agree to, even if we agree to disagree on some of the other big ticket items."

But during an interview last Sunday, Ryan signaled Republicans were looking for another showdown over the debt limit when the deadline rolls around in February.

"We as a caucus -- along with our Senate counterparts -- are going to meet and discuss what it is we’re going to want out of the debt limit," Ryan said. "We don’t want nothing out of this debt limit. We’re going to decide what it is we’re going to accomplish out of this debt limit fight."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) chimed in on Wednesday, making yet another fiscal crisis all the more likely.

"I doubt if the House or, for that matter, the Senate is willing to give the president a clean debt ceiling increase," McConnell said. "Every time the president asks us to raise the debt ceiling is a good time to try to achieve something important for the country."

Obama expressed disappointment that Republicans were flirting with holding the debt ceiling hostage, particularly on the heels of the budget breakthrough.

"I can't imagine that having seen this possible daylight breaking when it comes to cooperation in Congress, that folks are thinking actually about plunging us back into the kinds of brinksmanship and governance by crisis that has done us so much harm over the last couple years," Obama said.

"To repeat, the debt ceiling is raised simply to pay bills that we have already accrued," he added. "It is not something that is a negotiating tool. It's not leverage. It's the responsibility of Congress as part of doing their job. I expect them to do their job."

Obama concluded with the assumption that "folks aren't crazy enough to start that thing all over again."

In the last fight over the debt ceiling, the GOP wound up on the losing side. The deal to end the 16-day government shutdown and avert default in October suspended the debt limit through Feb. 7, while offering Republicans no real concessions in return. On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) stating that the federal government will reach the debt ceiling sometime in late February or early March 2014.

Lew also warned lawmakers not to play games with the debt limit.

"The creditworthiness of the United States is an essential underpinning of our strength as a nation; it is not a bargaining chip to be used for partisan political ends," he wrote. "Moreover, as you know, increasing the debt limit does not authorize new spending commitments. It simply allows the government to pay for expenditures Congress has already approved."

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