- Obama digs in heels, refuses to negotiate debt ceiling
- Pakistani forces fire in air at Islamabad protests
- Train carrying army recruits derails in Egypt, 19 killed
Posted: 14 Jan 2013 08:05 PM PST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Monday rejected any negotiations with Republicans over raising the U.S. borrowing limit, accusing his opponents of trying to extract a ransom for not ruining the economy in the latest fiscal fight.
At a White House news conference called to promote his position on the budget, Obama vowed not to trade cuts in government spending sought by Republicans in exchange for raising the borrowing limit.
"What I will not do is to have that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people," he said.
With an agreement to prevent the economy falling over a "fiscal cliff" barely two weeks old, Washington has already begun skirmishing over a new fiscal issue: the debt ceiling, which fixes a limit on how much the government can borrow.
The United States could default on its debt if Congress does not increase the borrowing limit, a prospect Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned against in separate comments on Monday.
Obama has tangled repeatedly with Congress over budget and spending issues, and on Monday he said Republicans would bear the responsibility for the consequences of a default.
"They can act responsibly, and pay America's bills or they can act irresponsibly, and put America through another economic crisis," he said. "But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy."
Republicans want Obama to cut some spending to rein in the deficit before they agree to raise the debt limit again.
Obama must get "serious about spending and the debt limit is the perfect time for it," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said. "The American people do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending at the same time," said Republican John Boehner, the House of Representatives speaker.
The last debt ceiling fight, in 2011, upset world financial markets. Obama cast the borrowing issue as one that will affect many Americans and sensitive industries.
"If congressional Republicans refuse to pay America's bills on time, Social Security checks and veterans' benefits will be delayed. We might not be able to pay our troops, or honour our contracts with small business owners. Food inspectors, air traffic controllers, specialists who track down loose nuclear material wouldn't get their pay checks," he said.
Obama reminded Republicans that he won the November election partly on his approach to fiscal issues.
The debt limit is one of a trio of deadlines looming around the end of February, including automatic deep spending cuts that were temporarily put off in the "fiscal cliff" deal, and the end of a stopgap government funding measure.
A number of Republicans have said they would be willing to allow a U.S. debt default or a government shutdown to force the Obama administration to accept deeper spending cuts than the White House would like.
Obama's unexpected news conference could have been a pre-emptive strike aimed at influencing strategy sessions among Republican lawmakers scheduled for later this week.
The Treasury Department warned on Monday that the United States will run out of ways to prevent a default in mid-February or early March if the $16.4 trillion ceiling on borrowing is not raised.
NOT A "DEADBEAT NATION"
Obama said he would agree to talk about steps to trim the U.S. budget deficit, but made clear he wants to keep that discussion separate from the debt ceiling increase.
"The issue here is whether or not America pays its bills," he said. "We are not a deadbeat nation. And so there's a very simple solution to this: Congress authorizes us to pay our bills."
He held to his position that deficit reduction should include measures to raise revenue and not come from spending cuts alone.
Republicans have rejected that approach, saying the "fiscal cliff" deal, which raised taxes for the wealthy while maintaining low tax rates for most Americans, should have put to rest any more discussion over tax increases.
Fiscal issues loomed large during what was the final news conference of Obama's first term, which came a week before an inauguration ceremony that will launch his next four years.
Fights with Congress over taxes and spending have overshadowed much of his domestic agenda during most of the last two years, with the president facing legislative gridlock that shows little sign of abating.
Obama raised the spectre of a severe setback to the U.S. economy if congressional Republicans persist with the threat of a debt default.
"It would be a self-inflicted wound on the economy," he said. "Even entertaining the idea of this happening, of the United States of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It's absurd."
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, top White House economic adviser Gene Sperling and Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett later held a conference call with three dozen business leaders to discuss the president's fiscal plans and insist that Congress must raise the debt limit "without drama or delay," a White House official said.
Participants included Honeywell International Inc CEO David Cote, Evercore Partners chairman Roger Altman, Goldman Sachs Group Inc chief executive Lloyd Blankfein, Marriott International Inc chief executive Arne Sorenson, AT&T Inc CEO Randall Stephenson, Xerox Corp chief Executive Ursula Burns, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty and Deloitte LLP's U.S. chief executive, Joe Echevarria.
(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Jeff Mason and Steve Holland, Editing by Alistair Bell and Christopher Wilson)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 14 Jan 2013 08:01 PM PST
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani security forces fired in the air and used tear gas in the capital Islamabad on Tuesday to try and control protests led by an anti-government cleric who is believed to be backed by the military.
Live television coverage showed forces firing in the air - a serious escalation in attempts to control crowds - while supporters of Sufi cleric Muhammad Tahirul Qadri hurled stones at them.
Qadri's spokesman told Reuters the crowds had prevented government forces from arresting the cleric. He said six supporters of the cleric were wounded.
Qadri's call has divided Pakistanis. Some hold him up as a champion of reform, others see him as a possible stooge of the powerful military, which has a history of coups and interfering in elections.
The populist cleric, who says elections scheduled for this spring should be delayed indefinitely until Pakistan's endemic corruption is rooted out, may not pose any immediate threat to the U.S.-backed civilian government.
But his calls for sweeping reforms have weakened the ruling Pakistan Peoples' Party, which has failed to tackle a staggering array of problems - from a Taliban insurgency to crippling power cuts to widespread poverty.
Few believe Pakistan's military has the appetite for another coup, especially since the Supreme Court has been standing up to the generals.
But the army would be happy to see figures like Qadri highlight the government's flaws, and perhaps play a behind-the-scenes role supporting him, analysts say. The military denies backing Qadri.
(Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 14 Jan 2013 07:14 PM PST
CAIRO (Reuters) - A military train carrying young recruits to an army camp derailed in a Cairo suburb on Tuesday, killing 19 people and injuring 107, Egypt's health ministry spokesman said.
The train was travelling from Upper Egypt to Cairo when it derailed in the Giza neighbourhood of Badrashin, a security source said, adding that the train was a military vehicle carrying conscripted youth on their way to an army camp.
The injured passengers were taken to hospitals, Ahmed Omar, the health ministry spokesman, told the state news agency MENA.
There was no further information available about the identities of the 17 dead except the names of the hospitals to which their corpses were sent, published on MENA.
"The Egyptian Ambulance Authority has sent 66 ambulance cars to the site of the accident to move the bodies of the injured and the corpses of the victims to hospitals," Omar told MENA.
Egypt's roads and railways have a poor safety record, and Egyptians have long complained that successive governments have failed to enforce even basic safeguards, leading to a string of deadly crashes.
In November, at least 50 people, mostly children, were killed when a train slammed into a school bus at a rail crossing south of Cairo, further inflaming public anger at Egypt's shoddy transport network.
(Reporting by Shaimaa Fayed; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Christopher Wilson)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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