By Justin Sink - 09/18/13 03:29 PM EDT
President Obama on Tuesday accused congressional Republicans of mounting an unprecedented attempt to "extort" him, vowing he won't allow a pattern "by which the full faith and credit of the United States becomes a bargaining chip."
Obama implored the gathering of CEOs to use "your influence, in whatever way you can, to get back to what used to be called regular order around here," arguing that the threat of "apocalypse every three months" was hurting the American economy.
"You have never seen in the history of the U.S. [an attempt to use] the debt ceiling — or the threat of not raising the debt ceiling — to extort a president or a governing party," the president told a group of corporate executives at the Business Roundtable.
The president has leaned on the corporate group in past battles with House Republicans over the debt ceiling. Shortly after the president’s last visit in December for a speech and closed-door discussion, the CEOs sent a letter to congressional leaders arguing all options, including tax increases, should be on the table as negotiators sought a “fiscal-cliff” deal.
That gesture, a reversal from the group’s stance just five months earlier, ratcheted up pressure on congressional Republicans. The GOP subsequently stumbled, and Obama struck a deal that many Democrats embraced.
Republicans on Capitol Hill dismissed the president's remarks. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) accused the president of employing "scare tactics" to gain leverage.
"No one is threatening to default," said Boehner aide Brendan Buck. "The president only uses these scare tactics to avoid having to show the courage needed to deal with our debt crisis. Every major deficit deal in the last 30 years has been tied to a debt limit increase, and this time should be no different."
Obama acknowledged on Wednesday that the debt ceiling had become "a fun talking point for politics" because "it sounds terrible," admitting that he had engaged in political theater during his time in the Senate.
"It's always a tough vote because the average person thinks raising the debt ceiling must mean adding to the debt," Obama said.
But, Obama said, the debt ceiling always got raised. He asked business leaders to imagine the reverse: if a Democratic Speaker of the House threatened to default if corporate income taxes weren't raised 20 percent.
"I'm happy to negotiate with them around the budget, just as I have done in the past," Obama said. "What I will not do is create a habit, a pattern, by which the full faith and credit of the United States becomes a bargaining chip."
The president also implored the business group to continue lobbying House Republicans to support immigration reform, as it has in the past. Earlier this summer, Motorola chief executive Greg Brown sent a letter on behalf of the group to every member of the House imploring them “to make successful consideration of immigration reform a top priority.”
Obama said passing reform "can add potentially a trillion dollars to our economy" and aid the business leaders' bottom lines.
"The problem is, this town, Washington, is locked up," Obama said. "And we are not seeing the kind of progress that we should on these issues."