Another government shutdown unlikely, Obama tells CEOs

President Barack Obama makes remarks at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council annual meeting, at the Four Seasons Hotel, on November 19, 2013, in Washington, DC. President Obama announced a new competitive grant program called "Youth Career Connect" aimed at finding new ways to better prepare high school students for high tech careers.
Pool, Getty Images

President Obama predicted that there will not be a repeat of last October's 16-day government shutdownwhen funding runs out again in January.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council, Mr. Obama said, "I'd like to believe that the Republicans recognize that was not a good strategy, and we're probably better off with a system in which that threat is not there on a perpetual basis."

He likened the way the debt ceiling works - where Congress must approve an increase whenever the U.S. needs to extend its borrowing authority - to "a loaded gun."

"Once people thought we can get leverage on policy disputes by threatening default, that was an extraordinarily dangerous precedent," he said.

The last fight over the debt ceiling came in the middle of the government shutdown, which occurred when Democrats resisted Republican attempts to alter or defund the Affordable Care Act in exchange for full funding of the government and an increase in the debt ceiling.

Mr. Obama conceded that most of the oxygen in Washington was consumed first by the shutdown, and then by the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges, or, as he said, "the fact that my website's not working the way it's supposed to."

Part of the problem with the law's implementation, he said, is the fact that it was passed on partisan lines.

"We should have anticipated that that would create a rockier rollout than if Democrats and Republicans were both invested in success," he said.

He stood by his pledge that the site will function "for the majority of people who are using it" by the end of November, and expressed confidence that people will have enough time to shop and sign up by the March deadline.

The biggest threat with the site going forward is the possibility that only older, sicker Americans will sign up, without the benefit of healthier young people to balance out the exchanges.

"What's also been expressed as a concern is the mix of people that sign up so we might end up you now having millions of people sign up, they're happy with their new coverage, but we've got more people who are older, more likely to get sick than younger and healthier," Mr. Obama said. "We've got to monitor that carefully. We always anticipated though that younger folks would be the last folks in."

Mr. Obama also discussed the talks to end Iran's nuclear program, which are set to resume Wednesday in Geneva. On Tuesday, the president met with lawmakers who have expressed concern about the possibility that the U.S. might roll back some sanctions as part if Iran begins to dismantle its nuclear program.

During his appearance, Mr. Obama assured the audience that the most powerful sanctions revolving around oil, banking and financial services won't be touched. But he also encouraged people to give diplomatic talks a chance.

"Let's test the proposition that over the next six months we can resolve this in a diplomatic fashion while maintaining the essential sanctions architecture and as president of the United States, me maintaining all options to prevent them from obtaining nuclear weapons," he said. "My hope and expectation is not that we're going to solve all of this just this week in this interim face but rather that we're purchasing ourselves some time to see how serious the Iranian regime might be in re-entering membership in the world community and taking the yoke of these sanctions off the backs of their economy."

  • Rebecca Kaplan On Twitter»

    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.