"I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd if we haven't resolved this issue. Because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it," Obama told "CBS Evening News" anchor Scott Pelley. (video below)
The assertion marks the latest attempt by the White House to frame the stakes in the sometimes abstract debt-ceiling debate in terms the American public can grasp, while placing increasing pressure on congressional Republicans.
During his news conference Monday, Obama spoke in similar terms, saying a failure to raise the $14.3-trillion limit would result in “a crisis of confidence in the markets, and suddenly interest rates are going up significantly, and everybody is paying higher interest rates on their car loans, on their mortgages, on their credit cards, and that's sucking up a whole bunch of additional money out of the pockets of the American people.”
In the CBS interview, Obama added that “this is not just a matter of Social Security checks. These are veterans' checks, these are folks on disability and their checks. There are about 70 million checks that go out."
Obama's remarks come on a day when the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said on the floor that a debt-ceiling deal between the GOP and the White House is “not attainable” because, he said, Democrats insist on tax increases to raise revenue.
At the daily media briefing Tuesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that if the government defaults, it will be forced to satisfy some obligations over others, something he termed a "Sophie's Choice" scenario.
"And, as you know, we have obligations that exceed the money we take in -- significantly exceed the money we take in. And that would then entail a kind of 'Sophie's Choice' situation, where you have to decide what bills you can pay," he said. "And the fact is, you know, whether it's Social Security checks or veterans' benefits or disability benefits, I mean, there is -- there are -- you know, the number of decisions that would have to be made.
"That's the kind of choice that nobody wants the United States of America to have to make," he said. "That's why the leaders have been clear that we will vote to have the United States fulfill its obligations. And the president feels strongly that that will happen."
The term "Sophie's Choice" refers to the novel by William Styron in which a mother in a Nazi concentration camp is forced to decide which of her children will live and which will die.