President Obama traveled just outside the Beltway on Thursday to Rockville, Maryland, to give a speech highlighting the challenges posed by the shutdown and a potential debt ceiling default on the private sector. "Stop this farce," the president demanded of House Republicans, "and end the shutdown right now."
Obama got to his key point quickly: The effects of the shutdown are much deeper than disputes over memorials on the National Mall. "Those hundreds of thousands of Americans, a lot of whom live around here," he said, "don't know when they're going to get their next paycheck. That means stores and restaurants around here don't know if they'll have as many customers." And further: farmers aren't getting loans. Children can't go to Head Start. (See our map of the state-by-state effects.) "The American people elected their representatives to make their lives easier, not harder," Obama said. "There's one way out of this reckless and damaging Republican shutdown: Congress has to pass a budget that funds our government with no partisan strings attached."
In a shift in his message to be slightly more direct, the president demanded that Speaker John Boehner allow a vote on a funding bill without any conditions. A count from the Huffington Post indicates that there are at least 20 Republicans willing to vote for such a bill — meaning that a majority of the House would approve it. "My simple message today is: Call a vote," the president said. "Put a bill on the floor, and let every individual member of Congress make up their own minds. … If you're not for a shutdown, you'll vote for the bill. If you're for a shutdown, you won't vote for a bill."
Obama singled out Rep. Marlin Stutzman, whose quote to the Washington Examiner has become a rallying cry for Democrats. "We’re not going to be disrespected," Stutzman said, "We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is."
The American people aren't in the mood to give you a goody bag to go with [doing your job]. What you get is our intelligence professionals being back on the job. What you get is our medical researchers back on the job. What you get are little kids back in Head Start. ...
That's what you get. That's what you should be asking for. Take a vote, stop this farce and end the shutdown right now. If you're being disrespected it's because of that attitude that you've got that you deserve to get something for doing your job.
Obama also addressed the debt ceiling, the "lousy name" of which implies that raising it raises the debt. (Raising the debt ceiling allows the Department of the Treasury to borrow money to pay bills the government has already accrued.) "You will hear John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and these other Republicans say we don't want to default," the president said. "But everybody knows — and it's written about in the papers — that their basic theory is: Okay, if the shutdown doesn't work, then we are going to try to get some extra concessions out of the president. We'll have a long laundry list [with] all of the things that we want we can't get passed on our own." Battling over the debt ceiling, he insisted, would "risk putting us back into a bad recession" — a message that echoes his CNBC interview on Wednesday.
He closed on an optimistic note. Americans work together and look out for one another, he said, "and that's why I think reason and common sense will ultimately prevail. That spirit at some point will infiltrate Washington as well."
The president spoke from M. Luis Construction, a company located just north of Washington, D.C. In Maryland. According to the AP, the company was selected as the location for Obama's speech because it has leveraged low interest rates in recent years to borrow cheaply and grow quickly. As a firm that also does a lot of road construction, it also frequently contracts with the county for work, meaning that it understands the effects of a government that's closed for business better than many.