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President Obama says the nation does not want to watch another game of chicken in Washington, D.C. this fall, and he's warning congressional Republicans not to force his hand. Congress must, once again, raise the debt ceiling, or the federal government won't be able to pay all of its bills. Mr. Obama told GOP lawmakers yesterday they should lift that limit on borrowing, without trying to extract concessions from him.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I will not negotiate over the full faith and credit of the United States.
MONTAGNE: That warning came at a White House event marking the fifth anniversary of the financial meltdown. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Before news broke of yesterday's Navy Yard shootings, the president hoped to refocus Washington's attention on the economy, after weeks of distraction from Syria. He used the anniversary of Lehman Brothers' collapse to highlight the gains that have been made in the last five years, and how far the recovery still has left to go.
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OBAMA: As any middle-class family will tell you, or anybody who's striving to get in the middle-class: We are not yet where we need to be.
HORSLEY: As he spoke, the president was flanked by people who've benefited from federal economic policies, including the Natalia Luis(ph), who runs a family-owned asphalt company in Maryland. The company took a big hit during the recession, and its workforce shrank by more than 60 percent. Thanks for federal loan guarantee, though, Luis was able to buy a new asphalt plant. And she's now adding between 50 and 100 workers.
NATALIA LUIS: There's one more business who, instead of being in survival mode, is now looking to expansion mode.
HORSLEY: Luis' company still has not rebounded to its pre-recession levels, though. She might be selling more asphalt if the president had not been stymied in his push for additional road projects and other public works.
LUIS: We cannot continue to ignore our infrastructure. If we do, it will be much more costly to repair in 10 years time than it is today.
HORSLEY: So far, the road back from the financial crisis has been long, bumpy and, for most Americans, incomplete. Unemployment has fallen, but it's still high. So those who are lucky enough to have jobs generally don't enjoy the bargaining power to push for higher wages. Income for most Americans has stagnated, even though profits and stock prices are up.
Josh Bivens tracks these changes for the left-of-center Economic Policy Institute.
JOSH BIVENS: We are far from recovered from the Great Recession. We're basically a third of the way back to where we should be, in terms of a full recovery. And we've got two-thirds of the way to go, even before we get back to the economic health of the mid-2000s, which actually was not spectacular for low and moderate income families.
HORSLEY: Obama has managed to push through some tax breaks, saying they're helping those families. But his proposals to raise the minimum wage and encourage union organizing have gone nowhere in Congress. With the federal government now divided between Republicans and Democrats, it's not only failed to drive economic growth, Bivens says, in some cases, it's actually pushed the economy backwards.
BIVENS: If you look even just specifically at the last time there was a debt ceiling showdown in August of 2011, it has turned out very badly. And hopefully, that lesson has been learned well as we reenter a new round of fiscal drama this coming fall.
HORSLEY: But longtime congressional observer Norm Ornstein, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, sees no sign lawmakers have learned from the 2011 showdown that rattled financial markets and cost the government its AAA bond rating.
NORM ORNSTEIN: I'm afraid we're playing not just with fire in this go around. We're playing with nuclear weapons. You hope that cooler heads will prevail. But I'm, you know, counting, and I don't see enough cooler heads.
HORSLEY: Some Republicans insist their price for raising the debt ceiling is suspending or eliminating Obamacare. That's a nonstarter for the president.
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OBAMA: The Affordable Care Act has been the law for three-and-a-half years now. It passed both houses of Congress. The Supreme Court ruled that constitutional. It was an issue in last year's election, and the candidate who called for repeal lost.
HORSLEY: Obama plans more economic events all this week, including a meeting with business executives tomorrow and a visit to a Ford assembly plant on Friday.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.