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Chaffetz: Obama trying 'to scare people' over debt limit

“The president does an exceptional job of scaring America,” Chaffetz said on Fox News Channel’s “On The Record With Greta van Susteren.” “He wants to use the military paychecks to try to scare people, ‘We’re going to hurt the elderly’ — you don’t have to do that.”

At a press conference on Monday, Obama warned that if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling, Social Security checks might not go out and troops overseas might not be paid. He also said investors would lose confidence in the economy and markets could crash.

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“Investors around the world will ask if the United States of America is, in fact, a safe bet,” he said. “Markets could go haywire; interest rates could spike.”

Obama’s warnings come as the White House and Republicans prepare for a new fight over raising the nation’s borrowing limit.

The president is pushing for a clean debt-limit hike, while the GOP sees an opportunity to use the threat of default to force Obama to agree to spending cuts and entitlement reform.

The U.S. suffered its first-ever credit downgrade after the last debt-ceiling showdown in 2011. Treasury Secretary Geithner warned congressional leaders Monday that the U.S. could default as early as mid-February.

But Chaffetz downplayed the importance of raising the debt ceiling, saying the Treasury could prioritize payments for Social Security and the military, while withholding payments on items that wouldn’t spook the markets.

“There are lots of things to do; the president has lots of discretion to curb back that spending to make sure that Social Security payments are paid, interest is paid, we don’t default on our debts,” Chaffetz said. “The president was terribly irresponsible today, to say he’s not even going to talk about it because he’s above it, blame Congress — look, in part Congress helped create this problem, but now we’re going to solve this problem.”

Many Senate Democrats have called on Obama to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling, bypassing Congress.

Chaffetz said such a move would provoke a “constitutional crisis.”

“You can only do this as authorized by law, and law is only created by the United States Congress,” Chaffetz said. “He has no ground to stand on.”

On that count, Obama appears to agree; on Monday, he likewise dismissed the idea that the White House could do anything on its own.

“I understand the impulse to try to get around this in a simple way, but there’s one way to get around this,” he said. “And that is for Congress to authorize me to pay for those items of spending that they have already authorized.”