* "I will not play that game," Obama on debt ceiling dispute
* Obama says numbers are not that far apart
* Calls global economy "soft"
By Jeff Mason and Mark Felsenthal
WASHINGTON, Dec 5 President Barack Obama bluntly
warned Republican lawmakers on Wednesday that he would not
engage in another debt ceiling standoff and predicted a "fiscal
cliff" deal could be reached in a week if his opponents would
compromise on taxes.
Obama, speaking to the Business Roundtable group of chief
executives, said any suggestion that Republicans would have more
leverage next year to extract concessions from the White House
by threatening to let the United States default was a "bad
strategy" for them and for the country.
A standoff between the White House and congressional
Republicans in 2011 brought the country perilously close to
defaulting on its debt and resulted in an embarrassing debt
rating downgrade for the United States.
"I want to send a very clear message to people here: We are
not going to play that game next year," Obama told the CEOs.
"If Congress in any way suggests that they're going to tie
negotiations to debt ceiling votes and take us to the brink of
default once again as part of a budget negotiation -- which, by
the way, we had never done in our history until we did it last
year -- I will not play that game. Because we've got to break
that habit before it starts."
The statutory ceiling on U.S. Treasury borrowing is $16.4
trillion. The nation is expected to hit the legal limit near the
year's end, although it can tap emergency measures to stave off
a default and keep the government running into early 2013.
If Congress fails to raise the borrowing cap, analysts
expect the Treasury would run out of options to avoid a default
sometime in the latter half of February. That forecast could
change depending on how the administration and Congress deal
with the fiscal cliff at the end of the year.
The White House wants an agreement to raise the debt ceiling
to be part of a deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of spending
cuts and tax hikes that start to take effect in January.
Obama insists that tax rates be raised on the wealthiest
Americans as part of a deal to avoid the cliff. He won
re-election last month largely on a pledge to raise those rates.
Republicans say raising taxes on the wealthiest would hurt a
still weak U.S. economy, and the two sides are at a stalemate
over how to proceed.
"IN ABOUT A WEEK"
Obama said he and Republican leaders in Congress were not
that far apart and could reach a deal in roughly a week if they
would accept a tax rate rise.
"We've seen some movement over the last several days among
some Republicans. I think there's a recognition that maybe they
can accept some rate increases as long as it's combined with
serious entitlement reform and additional spending cuts," he
"If we can get the leadership on the Republican side to take
that framework, to acknowledge that reality, then the numbers
actually aren't that far apart. Another way of putting this is
we can probably solve this in about a week; it's not that tough,
but we need that conceptual breakthrough that says we need to do
a balanced plan."
Failure to reach a deal could push the U.S. economy back
Obama said the global economy was soft, Europe would be "in
the doldrums for quite some time," and Asia was not "charging
forward" as quickly as it was a few years ago.
"Everybody is looking to America because they understand
that if we're able to put forward a long-term agenda for growth
and prosperity that's broad-based here in the United States,
that confidence will not just increase here in the United
States, it will increase globally," he said.