Throughout the debt ceiling talks, one of President Obama's key tasks has been to serve as a reassuring voice, expressing confidence to the public and the financial markets that the United States will not default on its debt. When he appeared at a town hall at the University of Maryland Friday morning, Obama did just that. "The United States of America does not run out without paying the tab," he said. "We pay our bills. We meet our obligations. We have never defaulted on our debt. We’re not going to do it now." Later in the town hall, Obama said, "I just want to make sure that everybody understands defaulting is not an option."
Just a few hours later, shortly after 6:00 p.m. Friday, the president appeared in the White House briefing room and delivered a message that was almost precisely the opposite of what he had said a few hours earlier. "[Congressional leaders] are going to have to explain to me how it is that we are going to avoid default," the president said. When asked whether he could guarantee that Social Security checks would go out, Obama said, "When it comes to all the checks, not just Social Security -- veterans, people with disabilities -- about 70 million checks are sent out each month; if we default then we’re going to have to make adjustments." Still later, Obama said that if House Republicans "are not willing to make sure that we avoid default, then I think it’s fair to say that they would have to take responsibility for whatever problems arise in those payments."
Near the end of the news conference, Obama said, "I remain confident that we will get an extension of the debt limit and we will not default." But by then he had already undermined that confidence. Yes, Obama was angry about the breakdown of the latest round of talks with congressional Republicans. But the talks have broken down before -- Obama himself walked out of one session -- and Obama must know that having the president vent publicly about default will not help the situation.