My fellow Americans:
I speak to you tonight from the Oval Office. From this office President Roosevelt told the American people about the D-Day invasion to rescue civilization from the iron grip of fascism.
From this office President Kennedy informed the nation about the build-up of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba and the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation of the world's two nuclear powers he had to undertake in order to eliminate the Soviet attempt to alter drastically the balance of power in the cold war world.
Tonight, I speak to you about another threat to our way of life, and to your economic security. A small band of fanatics, occupying positions of power in the House of Representatives, has prevented the United States from keeping the government open and from paying the bills that they, along with prior Congresses, ran up, unless they get their way.
In 2011 when this same faction held America hostage, our credit rating was downgraded for the first time in history. Let me quote to you from the downgrading report:
The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy. [Emphasis added].Despite claims to the contrary, this had not happened before. Otherwise, it would not have been singled out as unusual in the report.
This is very simple. No democracy can operate if one faction takes the entire nation hostage unless it gets its way. Indeed, a democracy cannot even function if policy negotiations are conducted in a framework with such a threat hanging over its head.
At that point, elections no longer matter. The winner, if one can call it that, becomes the side that cares least about the consequences to working men and women who just want to live their lives, raise their families, attend their churches and other places of worship, prepare their children for the world they will inherit, and have some measure of security in their old age.
When one side does not care about those consequences, the only response a prudent government can make is not to negotiate until the threat is removed. The United States simply does not negotiate with hostage-takers, foreign or domestic. The American people, rightly, take a very dim view of the hostage-takers as threats to their basic way of life, their nearly 225-year history of solving differences through the ballot box.
This fight is not about policy. It is not about jobs or debt or taxes or healthcare or education. Those policy discussions can become very loud and noisy, as often occurs in democracies when different groups strongly hold different opinions.
No. This fight is about our democracy, the conditions under which such discussions, loud and noisy as they may become, may even be conducted. They cannot be conducted with one faction threatening the economic security of the American people.
This fight is not about me. It is about the American people and any future government they elect. Imagine if a president vetoed any increase in the debt-ceiling, thereby threatening default, unless Congress passed spending and revenue measures exactly as the president alone wanted it. That would not be a democracy, but a dictatorship.
Again, the American people simply will not negotiate with hostage-takers. All it does is set the stage for the next hostage-taking. That is why I have said from the outset that I would not negotiate policy matters so long as the debt-ceiling and government shutdown were used as bargaining chips.
This strategy of holding the American people hostage was a long-term Republican plan. The 2012 elections did not come out their way. Instead of doing what one does in a democracy, and accepting that outcome until the next election, they decided to override the American people by holding them hostage until they get what they want.
At the beginning of my second term, the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, announced that he was going to enter into no more negotiations with me. Instead, Congress would proceed by "regular order". For more than six months, however, Republicans refused to appoint members to a conference committee to negotiate a budget, aka, "regular order". Instead, they deliberately awaited the end of the fiscal year when the federal government required additional authorization to keep running and the debt-ceiling needed to raised. Then, suddenly they wanted to negotiate their demands.
You may have heard the argument that Democrats received more votes than Republicans for the House, but only gerrymandering enabled Republicans to have a majority. That is true, but it is not really the point.
Unlike the Senate where every state has two votes, so that a senator from California represents 70 times the number of voters as a senator from a small state, the House of Representatives reflects the majority much more closely, each district having roughly the same number population. In 2012 Americans elected 234 Republicans and 201 Democrats, providing a broad spectrum of opinion to be represented.
But, that does not mean that all matters are decided by party breakdown. The way they reflect the majority of the American people on any given issue is to vote. Sometimes, issues will be decided along party lines. Sometimes, coalitions of Republicans and Democrats and Independents will reflect the majority position.
Republicans have refused to allow the majority to work its will. By their control over the House, they refuse to allow a debt-ceiling increase and a government shutdown solution even to come to a vote. They rigged the rules to prevent to it.
The government shutdown is nasty, harsh and cruel. It is depriving people of needed goods and services. It puts public servants, people who toil daily to do the business of the American people, at extreme hardship because, like everyone else, they have mouths to feed, rents or mortgages to pay, and school books and gasoline to purchase.
The government shutdown adds $300 million per day to our national debt, and this is imposed by the same faction that claims they care about our debt. Airplane safety inspections are on hold. Food inspections cannot occur. Environmental protection is suspended. Cancer treatments have been compromised. As the winter approaches, there are no funds to help the poor get heating through the winter.
Not only have key scientific experiments representing years of painstaking research have been irrevocably damaged, the attraction of science as a career to young people has been tarnished. America will not remain the greatest country without the greatest science.
But, as awful and useless as those deprivations are, they pale in significance to the consequences of actually defaulting on our debt. Financial experts, in government and out, predict a major worldwide depression if the United States, whose dollar is the world's reserve currency, defaults.
The United States is not a deadbeat nation. We never have been. We cannot be. I will not allow it.
With my hand on the bible, I have sworn twice now, to faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, SO HELP ME GOD.
The Constitution plainly states that the debts of the United States maynot be questioned. That was written into the 14th Amendment, and made part of the Constitution, largely to protect the United States government from being held hostage by the Confederate States that were re-joining the union following the Civil War.
As you know, I have resisted using this power, because the full-faith-and-credit of the United States is strongest when all elected branches are behind it.
But, defaulting on our debts is a worse outcome than performing my Constitutional duty without all elected bodies behind it.
I am, therefore, announcing tonight that I shall exercise my constitutional responsibility come October 17th and pay the debts and obligations to which the United States, through its elected officials, as already committed.
I ask the Senate to expedite through its process a law that raises the debt ceiling in synch with my action. I also ask the House of Representatives to put country before party and pass an increase in the debt-ceiling.
With this action, I want our elderly to know that their social security and medical bills will be paid as they have always been; our veterans to know that their claims will be paid as they have always been... and everyone to know who has a guarantee from the government of the United States written into law that they will receive those payments as they always have.
I want to say a word to international financial markets. The United States will never default on its financial obligations. Never. So, although my actions may be challenged in U.S. Courts, the United States will pay its financial obligations. Always.
Indeed, this action should end, forever, the threat of default as a financial sword of Damocles hanging over the U.S. and world financial markets.
The American people deserve a better Congress than this. Like the president, Congress swears an oath of office, pledging to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic... and to faithfully (and let me underline that word, faithfully) discharge the duties of the office.
Holding the American people hostage, substituting threats of financial ruin for votes, does not by any standard fulfill that sworn obligation. You cannot say you love America, but treat the American people with such disdain.
Explaining the origins of the missile crisis, President Kennedy observed that "we no longer live in a worldin which the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nation's security to constitute maximum peril." The same is true today of our economy, where reckless behavior by a faction that either does not care, or does not understand, the consequences of their actions, can destroy your lives.
I hope and pray that there will come a time, soon, when members of Congress will get back to legislating. The U.S. economy is slowly healing from the catastrophe of 2008, and this shutdown and default threat set back that process. Longstanding international tensions may be open to resolution, but shutdown and the default threat diminish our clout just at the time when it might be the most productive.
There is hope. A year after staring into the abyss the Cuban Missile Crisis highlighted, President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Khrushchev signed a treaty banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere, saving the planet from permanent radioactive contamination of all its food and water. But, President Kennedy clearly stated at the outset that such negotiations could not be conducted in an atmosphere of intimidation and threats, i.e., until the missiles were removed.
The same situation prevails today with respect to the threat of default and the government shutdown. Negotiations cannot be conducted in an atmosphere of threat and intimidation.
Perhaps, after this unnecessary and manufactured crisis, Republicans will start proposing policy alternatives that might actually solve some of the nation's problems, and work together to bring these to fruition. For years now, for example, they have claimed they have a better health care plan than the Affordable Care Act. Let us see it. Let them submit it to the Congressional Budget Office for scoring and analysis. Let us see if we can improve on the Affordable Care Act. To date, their only acts have been to repeal it -- depriving millions of people of their benefits and causing Medicare to go insolvent in two years, without any alternatives.
You can help. Let Congress know that they should stop playing games with your lives, your health and your economic security.
Thank you. God bless you, and god bless the United States of America.