"The debt ceiling is not question of authorizing more spending," Obama said in what is likely his last news conference of his first presidential term. "It allows the country to pay for spending that Congress already committed to. These are bills that are already racked up and we need to pay."
He said he was "happy" to have a conversation about reducing the deficit, but not have that conversation tied to raising the debt ceiling.
"The issue here is whether or not America pays its bills. We are not a deadbeat nation," Obama said. "So there's a very simple solution to this: Congress authorizes us to pay our bills."
He didn't specifically say he would take executive action, but said he understands the "impulse to try to get around this in a simple way."
"But there's one way to get around this. There's one way to deal with it, and that is for Congress to authorize me to pay for those items of spending that they have already authorized.
Threats of allowing the government to shut down would be "disastrous" for the American economy, Obama said, warning that Social Security checks would be delayed and the nation could sink into another recession.
"If congressional Republicans refuse to pay Americans' bills on time, Social Security and veterans benefits will be delayed. We might not be able to pay our troops," Obama said during a news conference that touched in part on the looming deadline to raise the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling.
For some Republicans to "even entertain" the idea of allowing the country default on its debt "is irresponsible; it's absurd," Obama said. "We got to pay our bills."
"They will not collect ransom in exchange for not wrecking the American economy," Obama said. "The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip."
If Republicans are truly interested in reducing the deficit, they will have a friend in him, he said.
"We've got to break this habit of negotiating through crisis," Obama said.
Almost as soon as Obama finished his news conference, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a response saying the American people don't back raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending.
"The consequences of failing to increase the debt ceiling are real, but so too are the consequences of allowing our spending problem to go unresolved," Boehner said in his statement. "Without meaningful action, the debt will continue to act as an anchor on our economy, costing American jobs and endangering our children's future."
He said the Republican-controlled House "will do its job and pass responsible legislation that controls spending, meets our nation's obligations and keeps the government running, and we will insist that the Democratic majority in Washington do the same."
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Obama was correct in saying there shouldn't be a debate "over whether the United States should pay the bills it has already incurred."
"While the American people expect Democrats and Republicans to meet in good faith at the negotiating table to achieve a big and balanced solution to the challenge of deficit reduction," Hoyer said in a statement, "they will not tolerate any party playing partisan games with a possible default and further downgrade of our credit."
Obama also said he would review proposals submitted by a gun-control task force led by Vice President Joe Biden then publicly announce his proposal later this week.
Biden has spent the past several weeks conferring with interest groups and developing recommendations.
"My starting point is not [to] worry about politics but focus on what makes sense and what works," Obama said. "I think we can do [something] in a sensible way that comports with Second Amendment."
He reiterated his desire to enhance background checks, get rid of high-capacity ammunition magazines and have an assault weapons ban "that's meaningful."
The proposals likely would be a combination that could be achieved by both legislation and executive action.
He said opposition sometimes comes from a "fear that's fanned by those who are worried about any legislation getting out there."