WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- One week before starting his second term, U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday urged Congress to raise the country's debt ceiling in a timely manner to avert dampening investor confidence and derailing the economic recovery.
Raising the country's debt ceiling does not authorize more government spending, but simply allows the nation to cover the bills it has accrued, Obama said at a hastily-arranged White House press conference, the last of his first term.
A congressional refusal to raise the debt ceiling would be a " self-inflicted wound" on the U.S. economy, delay payments of benefits to social security recipients, and could possibly tip the country into recession, Obama warned.
The U.S. federal government reached its debt limit of 16.4 trillion U.S. dollars on Dec. 31, 2012, and the Treasury Department was taking extraordinary measures to temporarily postpone the date of a possible default.
The U.S. government is expected to run out of ways to meet all of its obligations between mid-February and early March, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on Monday in a letter to congressional leaders.
If Congress does not act to extend borrowing authority, payments to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other government-funded programs would be at risk. "This would impose severe economic hardship on millions of individuals and businesses across the country," said the outgoing Treasury chief who has fought several fiscal battles with Republicans over the past years.
Even a threat of defaulting on government obligations is affecting investor confidence and hurting the economy, and threatening to not raise the debt ceiling is "absurd," Obama stated.
Congress Republicans have demanded steep spending cuts from Democrats in exchange for a debt ceiling increase even at the risk of a government shutdown.
The U.S. economy is poised for a good year if Washington politics doesn't get in the way, said Obama, cautioning that Republican lawmakers should not use a government default or shutdown as the bargaining chip to push for government spending cuts.
The United States is making progress in enhancing its fiscal sustainability in the past years as a result of government spending cuts and more government revenue. The United States is moving toward the goal of reducing 4 trillion U.S. dollars in government deficit over a decade, Obama noted.
The president urged the country to adopt a balanced deficit reduction approach to ensure key investments to bolster economic growth and protect the interests of the middle class.
Speaking at an event hosted by University of Michigan on Monday, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke also pressed Congress to raise the country's borrowing limit to avoid a potentially disastrous default.