Obama holds last news conference of first term, addresses debt limit and gun violence

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama says Congress' failure to raise the government's borrowing authority would delay payments of benefits to veterans and Social Security recipients. He again warned that he will not negotiate on raising the debt ceiling, aiming to pin the burden of an unprecedented default on congressional Republicans.

The government has hit its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit and is expected to run out of ways to meet all of its obligations around March 1, perhaps earlier. Republicans wants spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

Threatening to not raise the debt ceiling, Obama said, is "absurd."

Without an increase, the government would not have enough money to pay interest to debt holders and pay for all government programs.

Also of topic Monday was the issue of guns.

The president says he's reviewing a list of proposals from Vice President Joe Biden about how to reduce gun violence and expects to present specifics later this week.

Obama says stronger background checks, a meaningful ban on assault weapons and limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines are all ideas he thinks make sense. He says he's not sure how many of those measures can pass Congress.

Obama says in a news conference in the East Room of the White House that he expects Congress to set aside politics and focus on common-sense steps that can make a difference.

Obama asked Biden to lead a task force on ways to reduce violence after the December massacre in Newtown, Conn., that killed 27 people -- mostly children.

Commenting on his second term, Obama is deflecting criticism that his Cabinet for his second term is shaping up to be less diverse than it was during his first.

Obama says his first-term staff was as or more diverse than any other in history, and says he plans to build on that achievement in his second term. He says Americans should wait to see whom he appoints to open positions before rushing to judgment.

Obama is facing scrutiny from members of his own party over a perceived shortage of women and minorities among the candidates he's selecting to replace departing members of his administration. A number of female Cabinet members, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who is Hispanic, have stepped down or will step down soon.

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