President Barack Obama makes congressional Republicans the villains in the government's drama of lurching from crisis to crisis. But he also suggests Americans would "blame all of Washington" if there's a government shutdown or delays in Social Security benefits and other payments.
In his first news conference of the year and last of his first term, Obama said it's up to Congress, ultimately, to decide how to raise and spend money. "And if the Republicans in Congress have made a decision that they want to shut down the government in order to get their way, then they have the votes, at least in the House of Representatives, probably to do that."
Republicans control the House, Democrats the Senate.
Since Obama took office, gridlock on Capitol Hill has been the norm rather than the exception as one fiscal crisis has given way to another.
The government came close to defaulting on some of its obligations in mid-2011 when Republicans balked at raising the ceiling on the government's borrowing authority.
Congress now must again raise the debt ceiling for the government to keep borrowing money to pay its bills — or face a first-ever default as early as mid-February.
Both sides have dug in. Republicans insist raising the debt ceiling must be combined with big spending cuts. Obama counters he won't negotiate any deal linking the debt limit to spending cuts. It would be "short-sighted" and "profoundly damaging to our economy," he said Monday.
He was asked if he would let the government grind to a halt if he disagreed with spending-cut proposals put forth by Republicans — and if that happened, who'd be blamed?
Polls show voters are more inclined to blame Republicans than Democrats.
Even so, "I suspect that the American people would blame all of Washington for not being able to get its act together," Obama said.
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