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Veterans' checks could be delayed and active-duty troops may not get paid if the ongoing battle between the White House and Republican-led House results in a government shutdown over the debt ceiling, President Obama said Monday.
Though the Department of Veterans Affairs and Pentagon were not discussed in any detail during the roughly 40-minute White House press conference, veterans and troops – along with Social Security recipients – topped the list of those Obama said will be adversely affected by a government shutdown.
"If congressional Republicans refuse to pay Americans bills on time, Social Security benefits and veterans' checks will be delayed," he said. "We might not be able to pay our troops or honor our contact for small business owners."
"I'm willing to find compromise and common ground [with Congress] on how to reduce the deficit … but there's no room to debate about paying bills Congress has already racked up," he said.
Any additional cuts, he said, must not be connected to raising the country's current $16.4 trillion debt limit.
As happened a year ago, the House of Representatives is threatening to not raise the debt ceiling unless it gets the spending cuts it wants. The Defense Department has signed off on $487 billion in cuts over the next five years. Additional cuts – the result of a sequestration deal Congress made a year ago to prompt it to pass a budget – also remain a possibility.
Those across-the-board cuts are now slated to take effect in March, when the short-term deal reached in January to head of the "fiscal cliff" deal expires.
Political pressure had, up to now, sheltered the VA from any sequestration cuts.
Past administrations, both Democrat and Republican, have routinely asked Congress to raise the debt limit in order to allow the country to pay bills and continue to borrow money. Though at times there has been criticism and debate, it has only been since Obama took office in 2009 that Republicans have routinely turned the debt limit vote into a hostage crisis, the president said.
"They will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy," Obama said. "The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip."
"We can act responsibly and pay America's bills, or act irresponsibly and put American through another economic crisis … We've got to stop lurching from crisis to crisis to crisis," he said.
Other public safety jobs jeopardized by a government shutdown include food inspectors, air traffic controllers and special investigators tracking loose nuclear materials, according to Obama, but the markets would also be seriously hurt.
Obama hit some in Congress who dismiss government spending as a non-player when it comes to the economy, until the spending has to do with defense projects in their back yard. He called out lawmakers who play down the value of government jobs in the economy except when it comes to protecting defense contractors in their home districts
"Some of the same folks who say we got to cut spending, or complain that government jobs don't do anything – when it comes to that defense contractor in their district, they think 'Wow! This is a pretty important part of the economy in my district," Obama said. "We shouldn't stop spending on that. Let's just make sure we're not spending on those other folks.'"
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