Obama talks fiscal issues and gun control in first term's final speech

President Barack Obama (L) and Vice President Joe Biden arrive in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on Dec. 19, 2012 in Washington, DC.
Credit: Mandel Ngan

President Obama held the last news conference of his first term on Monday, ending his fourth presidential year as he began his first - talking about fiscal issues.

Congress barely avoided the fiscal cliff and its attendant tax hikes and spending cuts that would have significantly damaged the sluggish economic recovery, but now more fiscal crises confront the president and the American people.

More from GlobalPost: 3 more fiscal cliffs the US faces in 2013

Failure to raise by mid-February the $16.4 trillion US debt limit, known as the debt ceiling, would force the government to default on its debts, and that's never happened.

“Social security checks and veterans benefits will be delayed," and the US may not be able to pay businesses it contracts if Congress does not authorize the US to pay its bills, Obama said.

Quoting Speaker Boehner, Obama said debt-ceiling inaction would result in a self-inflicted wound, “a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy,” possibly pulling the US into another recession.

The president correctly stressed that increasing the debt ceiling, which most Americans had not heard of until two years ago, does not constitute a spending increase. "The debt ceiling is not a question of authorizing more spending…it simply allows the country to pay its debts Congress has already committed to,” Obama said.

His refrain on this point: "We are not a deadbeat nation.”

Gun control was another contentious issue the president addressed before reporters in the East Room.

Obama indicated he would support more rigorous background checks and a "meaningful" assault weapons ban. When pressed, the president said he would provide specifics later this week after he reviewed Vice President Joe Biden's recommendations. There may be legislation and possible unilateral executive orders, Obama said.

"The issues not whether we believe in the Second Amendment," Obama said, but about "sensible solutions" that prevent or reduce massacres like that in Newtown. Today is the once month anniversary of Newtown, when gunman Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and shot dead 20 children and six adults. 

Perhaps in an unintended metaphorical confluence of the two issues the president said the debt ceiling should not be used by Republican's as a “gun at the head of the American people.” 

"The financial well-being of the American people is not leverage to be used. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip," Obama said.

While the president said he was willing to talk with Republicans on a number of issues, he firmly stated he would not negotiate on the federal debt ceiling.

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